A New Name in the Tired, Old No Child Left Behind Debate

I urge you to read This Is Only A Test,  Jonathan Kozol’s review in yesterday’s NY Times of Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error, and then, of course, I encourage you to read (and master the information in) Ravitch’s excellent book.

But having recently read his excellent book review, I am thinking today about Jonathan Kozol, the writer who has again and again created a lens to help us see the plight of America’s children.  Kozol brought us “savage inequalities” and “apartheid schooling in America,” for example, terms that have been adopted into common parlance to depict our society’s growing inequality and racial segregation.

In yesterday’s review, Kozol coined a new phrase that stopped me cold.  He begins the second paragraph of his book review with this simple declaration: “The pressure intensified in 2002 with the enactment of the federal testing law No Child Left Behind…”

Most of us who write about public education, anxious to be scrupulously precise about the historical facts, have described, “No Child Left Behind, the most recent reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”  I have recently forced myself to feel comfortable shortening it to, “the current version of the federal education law, No Child Left Behind.”

But of course, as I realized when I read Kozol’s book review, No Child Left Behind has very little to do with education.  How thoughtless of me to have called it an education law.

Kozol’s new name—the federal testing law No Child Left Behind—has given me a whole new way of seeing.  Notice that calling it “the federal testing law” leaves no way to confuse the law with real school accountability or school reform or any kind of civil rights.  It is about massive standardized testing piled on top of more testing.  “The federal testing law” describes what the law does: prescribe annual standardized testing for all children in grades 3-8 and once in high school—and then prescribe outrageous consequences for school teachers and school districts and particular schools if scores don’t rise quickly.

The new name also keeps our minds from wandering to the hopeless logjam in Congress.  If we call No Child Left Behind “the federal testing law” instead of “the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” we are less likely to think about  the seeming impossibility and hopelessness of a reauthorization that has been languishing since 2007.  More direct possibilities  for protest and organizing come to mind.  Throw Out the Federal Testing Law.  Overturn the Federal Testing Law.  I Opted My Child Out of the Federal Testing Law.  The Secretary of Education could not possibly defame anyone with such a bumper sticker as a “defender of the status quo.”

Of course it is also important to understand why all the testing has been such a dismal failure.  For a pithy review of the issues, I recommend Bob Shaeffer’s piece last week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Flawed Exams Support Phony School Accountability.  Bob works with Monty Neill at FairTest, which helped sponsor a national resolution against high stakes testing.  If you are a parent, FairTest would urge you to become part of the movement to opt your child out of the federal testing law No Child Left Behind.

I plan to take a very simple step to intensify my protest: I will be adopting Jonathan Kozol’s phrase, “the federal testing law No Child Left Behind” whenever I refer to this law.  I challenge you to do the same.

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5 thoughts on “A New Name in the Tired, Old No Child Left Behind Debate

  1. Thanks for highlighting the importance of the power of language we use as we advocate and act for justice in our nation Jan! Federal Testing Law: No Child Left Behind speaks truth to power far better than “No Child Left Behind, the most recent reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

  2. Jan, I attended a meeting of Community Leaders in Columbus and the prevailing opinion among a group of 15 very positive people was that the November Levy had a slim chance of passing.Your fan, Ron Hooker The Review was excellent

  3. Pingback: A New Name in the Tired, Old No Child Left Behind Debate | PAChurchesAdvocacy.org

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