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No Child Learns Better: Why NCLB Fails to Make the Grade

October 2nd, 2007

This article by Aaron Turpen, who is the editor of the Utah Freedom Activist Newsletter at http://www.utahfreedomactivist.com, highlights the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which I like to think of as “No Child Learns Better” for its failure to substantially improve the American educational system.

As Libertarians who believe that individuals should actually manage their own lives without the need for government interference, we see the current government-controlled school system as being at least partially to blame for why many Americans are stupid and continue to live in blissful ignorance while spending their money on all sorts of frivolous nonsense. Hopefully, as more people begin to understand that State-controlled monopolies on education do not work and are actually holding back the true potential of the American people, we can begin to seriously explore other alternatives and allow parents to choose the ones that they believe are the most effective.


We’ve all heard the story before: a struggling student, at the end of the school year, must get a good score on his final exam or face the humiliation of being held back to repeat the grade…so he cheats.America’s schools are in this same situation. Faced with parents and a public who know they are failing to teach children anything and faced with lawmakers who demand that “no child be left behind,” these schools are resorting to the last-ditch effort of the schoolboy faced with a failing grade. They’re cheating.

Schools don’t have the luxury of looking over someone else’s shoulder to copy down the right answers. They have it even better: they’re expected to answer the test questions and then grade the test themselves! So the job of a school administrator is no longer making sure they have books, teachers, pencils, and other supplies in place. The job of the school administrator is now to juggle the numbers until they come out in such a way that the school looks good and maybe even shows improvement…all without changing anything, fundamentally.

These grades for schools fall into three major criteria: “testing data”, school violence/crime, and graduation/attendance rates. None of these three criteria are immune from being manipulated by the cheaters to gain better results.

Testing Data

Thanks to “No Child Left Behind,” if a school fails to make adequate yearly progress, students can transfer to another school using federal funds (even private schools). Schools who continue to fail in this regard could face takeover by the state - which would replace the staff or even bid the entire thing out to private interests. Obviously, educrats don’t like this idea.

Two different school districts in two separate parts of the country, one in Texas and the other in Illinois, were recently exposed and found to have been doctoring “No Child Left Behind” test scores in order to bolster their schools’ images. By manipulating the numbers, “disqualifying” key students’ tests, and using other nefarious methods, educators cheated the scores.

In one case, students from the bottom 3% of the scores the year before suddenly scored in the top 5% the next year. In another, it was found that educators (from teachers on up) had bonus incentives of $800-$20,000 if their students’ performance showed marked improvement.

Other states aren’t clean either. Nevada schools were caught distributing test data to students nearly a dozen times in 2003 and answers to the tests were handed out to 10th graders in Indiana… there are others caught cheating as well.

School Violence/Crime Rates

In the 2003-04 school year, only 26 of the nation’s 91,000 or so public schools were labeled as “persistently dangerous”, a label which allows students to transfer to another, safer school under the No Child Left Behind Act. That’s interesting to note since the National Center for Education Statistics shows that 7% of U.S. Schools (about 5,400) accounted for about 75% of the violent incidents reported.

Yep, that’s a lot more than 26 schools, isn’t it?

Graduation/Attendance Rates

Finally we come to the graduation and attendance rates which schools are so proud to display. After all, American public schools on the whole show an 85% high school graduation rate (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).

Jay P. Greene of the Manhattan Institute argues that the true graduation rate for American schools is more like 71%. Green’s paper, “Public School Graduation Rates in the United States” notes that “There were a total of 3,852,077 public school ninth-graders during the 1998-99 school year. In 2001-02, when that class was graduating, only 2,632,182 regular high school diplomas were distributed. Simply dividing these numbers producing a (very rough) graduation rate estimate of 68%”.

In a paper entitled “Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in California”, published this year, Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project reports that only about 68% of all students who enter the 9th grade will graduate “on time” with a high school diploma nationally.

Schools are under a lot of pressure to label a student who no longer attends their institution as anything but a “dropout”. They label them as “transfer students”, “continuing education students”, or just forget about them (and their records) altogether.

The No Child Left Behind Act was purported to be a “new era” in information-sharing between schools and parents. In reality, it just gives definition and even step-by-step guidelines to school administrators on how to deceive parents into believing their children’s schools are doing better than they really are.

America’s schools, despite their denial of the fact, are still failing to teach American children. More and more parents are turning to alternatives such as home schooling, private schooling, charter schools, and more in order to get their children the education they need.



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