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Your guide to education in Illinois
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No Child Left Behind

    "No Child Left Behind ... is a giraffe with an elephant's body. ... You can't take the vision of Ted Kennedy and merge it to the public policy of George Bush and come out with anything that works."

    -- Steve Rauschenberger, Illinois State Senator,
    interview, September 4, 2003

    The amount of money that the federal government spends on education has skyrocketed, particularly since the passage of No Child Left Behind. Even just looking at K-12 alone, USDOE spending is budgeted at $36,276,140,000 for 2007, a leap of an astonishing 67% since the $21,693,965,000 for 2000. (For details, see our page on spending.)

    Whether or not all of these huge increases in federal spending have actually done much good is an open question. It's raised much conversation about the problems of our system of schools, and that's good. But the federal involvement, especially with NCLB, is essentially a centralized command-and-control framework, which worked so well for the socialist states of the old Soviet Union. And like those experiences, where management and production were more focused on five-year-plans and set points than on accomplishing anything, we see states racing to lower their standards and the difficulty of their state tests in order to achieve numeric NCLB targets. As one writer put it, "A law where the consequences mean that Arkansas has zero failing schools and Michigan has 1,500 is bound to have unintended consequences -- every state strives to be Arkansas."

    After all the hubbub and commotion of NCLB, the fact remains that there has been hardly any action towards empowering parents, even parents in urban districts with some awful schools.

    Dumbing-Down the State Tests:
    Click to go to our coverage on tests and assessments, which discusses how NCLB rules have the perverse effect of encouraging states to ***reduce*** the difficulty of their statewide tests.

  • No Child Left Behind:
    Official website from the U.S. Department of Education

  • Top 10 Myths about No Child Left Behind ... and Why You Shouldn't Believe Them by Lori Drummer, New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, January 1, 2005

  • "Much of George W. Bush's rhetoric about leaving no children behind and how 'when somebody hurts, government has got to move' bespeaks a vision of the state that is indeed totalitarian in its aspirations and not particularly conservative in the American sense. Once again, it is a nice totalitarianism, motivated no doubt by sincere Christian love (thankfully tempered by poor implementation); but love, too, can be smothering."
    -- Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism, p. 22

  • "NCLB -- The most ponderous federal government intervention in education in American history."
    Another Day of Reckoning by Brian L. Carpenter, Mackinac Center, April 15, 2005. "It was on April 18, 1991 that [then] President George H.W. Bush released a pamphlet entitled 'America 2000: An Education Strategy.' Ultimately, the strategy became known simply as 'Goals 2000' -- a set of six nationalized education goals to be achieved by the start of the 21st century. Yet 2000 came and went, and despite an investment of millions of taxpayer dollars, the strategy ended like most directives from the feds: It didn't come anywhere close to achieving its goals. ... Mountains of data demonstrate that none of these goals were achieved. Nevertheless, as recounted above, the federal government subsequently created a significantly metastasized version of the law: No Child Left Behind -- the most ponderous federal government intervention in education in American history. ... Nobel Laureate and famed economist F. A. Hayek referred to the mistaken notion that a national economy could be effectively centrally planned as 'the fatal conceit.' Laws like Goals 2000 and NCLB are the educational equivalent of the fatal conceit because they are enacted on the premise that federal and state bureaucrats can effectively administer the massive government school system."

  • Stop Mandating a Bureaucratic Mess by George Will, December 9, 2007. "No Child Left Behind, supposedly an antidote to the 'soft bigotry of low expectations,' has instead spawned lowered standards. The law will eventually be reauthorized because doubling down on losing bets is what Washington does. ...
        "NCLB ... expansion of Washington's role in the quintessential state and local responsibility was problematic, for three reasons: First, most new ideas are dubious, so federalization of policy increases the probability of continentwide mistakes. Second, education is susceptible to pedagogic fads and social engineering fantasies -- schools of education incubate them -- so it is prone to producing continental regrets. Third, America always is more likely to have a few wise state governments than a wise federal government. ...
        "NCLB's crucial provisions concern testing to measure yearly progress toward the goal of 'universal proficiency' in math and reading by 2014. This goal is America's version of Soviet grain quotas, solemnly avowed but not seriously constraining. Most states retain the low standards they had before; some have defined proficiency down."

  • A Puny Step Forward by Neal McCluskey, American Spectator, March 1, 2007. "The Aspen Institute's Commission on No Child Left Behind recently released Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation's Children, a report it touts as offering gutsy proposals to solve the nation's educational problems. ... So what sort of revolutionary changes to the status quo does the report propose? None, really. Sure, it calls for a few new-ish things, like voluntary national standards, focusing on teacher effectiveness instead of credentials, and tracking the performance of individual students, but nothing really bold. Indeed, most of the recommendations would add regulations to a law already larded with them, and none would do what's necessary to truly transform American education: Decentralize our hidebound, government-controlled education system and take power away from the teachers' unions, administrator associations, and other special interest groups that dominate it."

  • "No Child Left Behind" Should Be Left Behind by Paul Weyrich, November 15, 2007. "Another day, another wasteful federal dollar spent. This time the culprit is No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the massive federal education program passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in January 2002. NCLB was intended to improve education standards in America's dismal public schools. It should have been named No Bureaucracy Left Behind instead. I opposed NCLB from the beginning. Why? Because education is a local concern. There is simply no way that all public schools from New York City to Alaska have the same problems that require a one-size-fits-all solution. ... In the years since its enactment, NCLB has done little more than add another layer of bureaucracy to education."

  • "NCLB is a politician's dream: It provides an opportunity to be seen as doing something, without necessarily having to do anything."
    No Cop-Out Left Behind, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, March 23, 2005. "The federal No Child Left Behind Act was supposed to improve public schools by setting clear performance standards and enforcing meaningful consequences if those standards went unmet. This was such a wonderful-sounding idea that the NCLB was ushered into law with unprecedented bipartisan support. Another reason for the law's broad appeal is its lack of specificity. The federal government demands that states set standards, but doesn't dictate their content. The feds insist that schools make 'adequate yearly progress,' but leave the definition of that term to the states. In other words, NCLB is a politician's dream: It provides an opportunity to be seen as doing something, without necessarily having to do anything. ... Consider what might happen if McDonald's followed the Michigan Board of Education's management model. It could lower its standards for the definition of an 'adequately cooked' burger, with ample allowance for 'culinary error.' If it looked like a patty showed some sign of having been exposed to heat, then McDonald's would give itself 'the benefit of the doubt,' slap it on a bun and right into your hands. Mmmmmmmm."

  • Court: Parents Can't Sue to Enforce 'No Child', USA Today, November 21, 2008. "Philadelphia (AP) � A federal appeals court says parents cannot sue school districts to force them to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act. The ruling Thursday comes in a case filed against the low-performing Newark School District in New Jersey. Parents say the district failed to notify them of the right to transfer out of failing schools and of other provisions required under the law. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says enforcement of the act is up to state educational agencies."

  • NCLB: The Dangers of Centralized Education Policy, Executive Summary by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Cato Institute, Policy Analysis no. 544 May 31, 2005. "The NCLB statute is a reform strategy at war with itself. It virtually guarantees massive evasion of its own intent, ordering state education agencies to do things that they mostly don't want to do. Washington will be forced either to allow the states great leeway in how they implement NCLB or to make NCLB more detailed, prescriptive, and top-heavy. If Washington chooses the former, the statute might as well not exist; if the latter, federal policymakers will increasingly resemble Soviet central planners trying to improve economic performance by micromanaging decisions from Moscow. NCLB may end up giving us the worst possible scenario: unconstitutional consolidation of power in Washington over the schools, with that power being used to promote mediocrity rather than excellence."
  • Also see this full text of this policy analysis (PDF).

  • Daley Sees Problem, But Not Solution, Children First America, July 18, 2002. "Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, while speaking out against the 'No Child Left Behind' legislation, proved that he recognized the problem with government schools that we all are aware of, but couldn't make the logical leap to the obvious solution. Commenting on the fact that while 125,000 students in Chicago were eligible for a transfer, only 3,000 slots were available in other schools, Daley said, 'Many of the schools are not performing; we all know that. But where are you going to go?' Perhaps the students could have gone to one of the 14 Catholic schools in the diocese of Chicago that were forced to close in January. How many of those schools would still be there to provide these students with an option for a quality education were there a voucher program in place in Chicago?"

  • NEA Plans To Lower, Not Raise, Education Bar by Ruben Navarette, Jr., San Diego Union Tribune "After five years of trying to undermine the No Child Left Behind Act, the nation's largest teachers union has decided that it can live with the education reform law after all -- as long as the legislation is gutted, its standards lowered and its accountability measures watered down."

  • A State Perspective on the Past and Future of No Child Left Behind by Tom Horne, Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction, April 24, 2007. "When a central bureaucracy attempts to manage a complex continent-wide system, extreme dysfunction results. My theme today is that this is as true of No Child Left Behind, with an 1,100-page bill, and an intrusive federal department of education. It is as dysfunctional in attempting to micromanage a complex continent-wide education system, as was true of the Soviet bureaucracy trying to micromanage the Soviet economy. ...
         "The federal system divides the world into nine ethnic and other subgroups and tests two subjects, in seven grades, with two measures: percent proficient and whether or not at least 95 percent were tested. ... With all of these categories, how many combinations and permutations are there? How many ways are there to fail? To pass the Arizona high school high-stakes math exam, you would have to know the formula for that. You multiply the numbers together: 9 x 7 x 2 x 2 = 252. There is an additional measure that varies by states. That makes a total of 253. I call this the 253-ways-to-fail system. ...
         "Why would anyone in the federal government do anything as irrational and dysfunctional as what I have described? ... They are not evil people as individuals. They are simply following a universal law of nature: If you give a centralized bureaucracy the power to micromanage a continent-wide, complex system, extreme dysfunction will result. ...
         "Let's talk about another way in which No Child Left Behind creates significant dysfunction in the educational system. It requires states to test reading, math, and science but not social studies. By social studies, I refer primarily to history, but also geography, government, and economics. ... [But] schools teach only what is tested. This means that the knowledge of history among American students ... has declined precipitously ... Many elementary schools teach no history at all. ... A country that does not know its history is like an individual who has lost his memory: He does not know where he has been; he does not know where he is going; and he does not know how to deal with problems. If we are going to be able to preserve our free institutions, our citizens must understand their history. If they are going to have pride in our institutions and want to preserve them, they must know our history in depth.
         "I am a proponent of a curriculum developed by E. D. Hirsch, called Core Knowledge. Students get a content-rich curriculum in American history, the Greco-Roman basis for Western civilization, and science beginning in kindergarten, first and second grades. As they get older, they can learn history in much greater depth because they have been exposed to it when they are young. In the district where I served on the school board for 24 years prior to becoming Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, we introduced the Core Knowledge curriculum for some of our schools beginning in 1996. Students who began school then are now in high school. The high school teachers are ecstatic that the students have so much knowledge, that the high school teachers can teach in much greater depth."

  • No Child Left Behind - Policy Analysis (PDF) by Brad Thiessen, Asst. Professor of Mathematics, St. Ambrose University. This is a fascinating history of federal involvement in education leading up to NCLB. Of particular and unique interest in the dissection of the waves of political give-and-take that led to the final form of NCLB.

  • Report: Dishonest Education Reporting by States Is 'Widespread' by Katie Farber, Human Events, June 2, 2005. "Some of the education statistics sent by states to the federal government in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act simply can't be trusted, according to a new Cato Institute study of the law. 'Sadly, dishonest reporting about graduation rates turns out to be widespread,' writes Larry Uzzell in a Cato Institute policy brief titled, 'NCLB: The Dangers of Centralized Education Policy.' Uzzell, a former staff member of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. House and Senate committees on education, cites the example of California, which in late 2003 announced a graduation rate of 86.9%. However, California's own specialists admitted the true figure was closer to 70%. 'Unless those data are honest and accurate and reliable, even when the findings are threatening to the same people who are in charge of finding and compiling it, then NCLB is not going to work,' Uzzell said at a Tuesday debate on recent opposition to the act."

  • Leaving Behind Bad Federal Education Policy: NCLB has got to go. by Carrie Lukas, December 19, 2006. Excerpts: "Decades of federal education programs had proved Washington was inept at improving student learning. Yet, by 2001, congressional Republicans abandoned this principle for the chance at a photo-op with Ted Kennedy. They backed the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) -- the largest expansion of the federal role in education since 1965. ... Five years later, NCLB has reaffirmed the folly of federal meddling in local schools. Most notably, NCLB hasn't significantly improved academic achievement across the nation."

  • No Classroom Left Alone By Jennifer Rubin, American Spectator, February 9, 2007. "Advocates of small government and local control of education really got their comeuppance with George W. Bush. ... [They] were mortified to see the federal government extend its reach into every classroom in America. Not even LBJ could have imagined No Child Left Behind. ... Since the federal government had such a magnificent track record in eliminating poverty and family fragmentation, politicians ranging from Teddy Kennedy to George W. Bush decided to give it one last assignment: improve K-12 education. Complaints from local school boards, teachers' unions, and fiscal conservatives were ignored."

  • Within Our Reach: How America Can Educate Every Child edited by John E. Chubb, Hoover Institution Press, 2005. Here's the dilemma, as expressed from the description of this important report:
  • "The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is bolder than all previous federal education laws, setting ambitious goals for universal student achievement and authorizing stringent remedies for schools not reaching them. ..."
  • "After three years, it's clear that NCLB is breaking plenty of education china -- if not a new education path. Today, however, it seems the law's implementation will fall far short of its potential."
  • Within Our Reach is the product of a veritable who's-who of education reformers: Diane Ravitch, Herbert J. Walberg, Caroline M. Hoxby, Eric A. Hanushek, John E. Chubb, Williamson M. Evers, Lance T. Izumi, Paul E. Peterson and Terry M. Moe. It offers exceptionally thoughtful suggestions for changes badly needed to make NCLB successful.

  • The Big Lie: 'No Child Left Behind' by Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe, August 2, 2002.
    "Children remain as trapped as ever"
    "When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in January, he said: 'There must be real consequences. There must be a moment in which parents can say, 'I've had enough of this school.'
       "Bush's declaration was easy to make back when there were no consequences to hand down. A half-year later, the parents of failing schools and their children remain as trapped as ever.
       "In Chicago, where 179 elementary schools with 125,000 students have been classified as failing, school officials announced this week that students in only 50 of those schools will be allowed to seek transfers to a better-performing school. That means that only 29,000 students of the 125,000 in failing schools will be eligible to seek transfers.
       "More insidious is that the CEO of Chicago's public schools, Arne Duncan, announced that students will not be able to select a school more than 3 miles from home. That means that students on the beleaguered south and west sides of Chicago will have no chance at enrolling in better-performing schools to the north, northwest, and southwest.
       "With all the restrictions Duncan has put in place, there will be only 2,900 transfer slots. Chicago will keep between 97 and 98 percent of its 125,000 students in their traps in failing schools."

  • A Misesian on the School Board by Jim Fedako, May 05, 2006. The author, a school board member in Ohio, writes, "Bush proposes federal initiatives, state education departments add new programs, and local school boards pronounce missions and goals, but each can fix nothing. They simply form the current version of the Soviet Gosplan, creating five-year plans of improvement that will only create more havoc, more chaos. ... Two questions beg answers: What are the solutions? And, what am I doing serving the beast."

  • The Education Revolution America Needs by Eugene Hickok, Washington Post, October 27, 2006 "Even if Secretary Spellings were right that NCLB is 99.9% pure, it still would not be the formula for what ails American education. ... NCLB is simply not up to the task. ... The deeper problem is the existing institutional architecture of American public education. No Child Left Behind erects an accountability system atop the status quo ... But public education governance, structure, finance, management and politics remain intact. ... The root of the problem isn't in the law; it's in the American education system. It can't get there from here. Today's public education system essentially tells parents: 'This is the school your child will attend. This is when we teach, what we teach and who will teach.' In short, it puts the system ahead of the child. We need an education environment that listens and responds when a parent says: 'This is my child; these are my hopes and dreams for my child, his needs and interests, his strengths and weaknesses. Why should I entrust my child to your care?' We need educational opportunities that put the child first. ... Newly minted accountability systems have school administrators gagging and leave too many parents confused, resulting in too many failing to take responsibility for the future of our children. As for ownership, our public schools have become institutions of government, serving bureaucracies rather than the public. It's as though the system owns us rather than we owning the system. ... [I]t would be a mistake to think that No Child Left Behind delivers the education system we need. At best, it will help us understand just how far we have to go, fueling our frustrations and disappointments along the way. NCLB is a wake-up call. What's needed is an American education revolution."

  • "NCLB doesn't actually mandate that kids learn anything. ...
    The money keeps on flowing."
    Crash Course: NCLB is driven by education politics (or PDF) by Frederick M. Hess and Chester E. Finn Jr., Education Next, Fall 2007.
         "There's nothing wrong with lofty ambitions. Yet political compromises meant that NCLB's grand aspirations were saddled with sputtering machinery and weak sanctions. Few Americans realize that, for states to keep their Title I dollars, they need only to set goals, administer tests, report results, and see that districts intervene in specified ways in low-performing schools. NCLB doesn't actually mandate that kids learn anything. If the kids don't learn, or if their schools don't improve, no sanctions follow (save possible embarrassment) so long as officials comply with the procedural requirements. The money keeps on flowing.
         "NCLB's architects ... overlooked the fact that effective behavior-changing regimens are rooted in realistic expectations and joined to palpable incentives and punishments; NCLB provides none of these. ...
         "Several pending reauthorization proposals [would] extend that pattern and press down harder still from Washington, with more rules, regulations, and commands. That may well be what Congress ends up doing. But it is unlikely to work as intended, because it misdiagnoses the essential problem."

  • Does NCLB need to be "tweaked"? Not according to Alan Caruba: The Destruction of American Education, April 19, 2004

  • "I have a one-point plan for No Child Left Behind: Scrap it."
    -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, quoted in USA Today, September 7, 2007

  • "The Constitution gives the federal government no authority whatsoever in education. The results of NCLB prove how wise the Founding Fathers were to keep the federal government out of schools."
    -- Neal McCluskey, education policy analyst, Cato Institute, September 6, 2007

  • The Looming Train Wreck of No Child Left Behind by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D., March 20, 2008. "Today, the total federal share of the K-12 education budget remains under 10 percent of the total K-12 budget, but serves as a vehicle for a huge number of federal mandates on schools. Fully 41 percent of the administrative costs for state education are spent on complying with federal mandates, the General Accounting Office estimates. Despite this record, some see the race to the bottom as an opportunity to expand federal control over local schools. Some have begun to make the case for 'national standards.' ... We need to move precisely in the opposite direction. ... The mess of NCLB inspires no confidence in the ability of Congress to fashion standards, even if it were constitutionally appropriate, which it decidedly is not."

  • "NCLB's remedy provisions bear all the marks of concessions to various ideologies, advocates, and interest groups, with scant attention paid to how they fit together, the resources or authority they require, or whether they could be sensibly deployed through the available machinery."
    -- Frederick M. Hess, American Enterprise Institute, FrontPage Magazine, September 4, 2007

  • Our National Education System: A $49 Billion Dollar Disaster by Alan Caruba, January 28, 2002. "You had to know something was terribly wrong while you watched President George W. Bush stand at the podium and laud Sen. Teddy Kennedy. ... Nothing good can come of these two colluding on an education program and nothing will. ...
        "Here's an interesting exercise. Sit down with a copy of the Constitution of the United States of America and see if you can find anything in it that actually authorizes the federal government to get involved in the education of children."

  • "It's only fitting in a year when an Austrian bodybuilder becomes governor of California that an expansion of federal power by a conservative Republican administration would lead to an embrace of states' rights by liberal Democrats."
    Education Establishment Discovers Tenth Amendment by Mike Antonucci, Education Intelligence Agency, November 17, 2003. "Reporting from the floor of the NEA convention on July 3, 2003, EIA stated, 'The fact is, NCLB is a federal power grab. But it's the first federal power grab NEA has ever found reason to oppose.' Union officials are not alone in decrying the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act. They have been joined by a number of administrators, legislators and governors.
         "Those of us who are of the libertarian persuasion quietly note that the federal government has no constitutional authority over public education policy. Therefore, Washington has to buy its authority -- in the case of NCLB -- with Title I money. If states want the money, they have to accept the mandates. So we are confused by those NCLB opponents who claim the federal law is costing them money. They say the cost of the mandates exceeds the funding.
         "The unions' default reaction to such a condition is to demand more funding. But more and more districts and states are considering the alternative: reject the mandates and turn down the funding. Federal money usually trumps the principle of local control in most aspects of government policy. But if NCLB truly costs more than it provides, why participate?
         "It's only fitting in a year when an Austrian bodybuilder becomes governor of California that an expansion of federal power by a conservative Republican administration would lead to an embrace of states' rights by liberal Democrats."

  • From Mike Antonucci, Education Intelligence Agency, July 3, 2006: "It's difficult to take seriously all the NCLB horror stories about soul-deadening curriculum, skyrocketing school budget deficits, employees thrown out into the streets, and intimidated and frightened students, when not a single state has turned down the money appropriated by Congress to implement it. Reject the money, avoid NCLB mandates. When the education establishment truly embraces the Tenth Amendment, we'll all be better off. Don't take the handout and then complain when you're asked to chop wood."

    Also see this page:
       Parent Choice vs NCLB

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