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Volume II, Number 9, November, 2004

The Dark Ages of Education

History will look back at the national educational policy of this decade
as the cause of so much damage to schools and to children that the period
will be known as The Dark Ages of Education.

Elders will shake their heads remembering the bad times, the false
promises and the rampant experimentation visited upon public
education by a curious coalition of reformers and free market zealots.

These are the worst of times for American schools - a truly ominous slide into a fast food approach to learning that will severely damage this generation of children.

Policy makers who understand little about education have imposed agendas for change that are ill informed, radically experimental, unsubstantiated by credible research and driven by political motives that are often different from what is claimed.

Both political parties are to blame for this disaster, as Democrats under Bill Clinton endorsed the notion of tough national standards and a strong national hand while uniting with Republicans to pass NCLB.

While the Bush administration has badly distorted the original intent of the law by moving towards a privatization agenda through rules, regulations and its interpretations of the NCLB law, there are few voices for sanity in Washington as the nation's schools slide toward danger.

The discussion of NCLB during the presidential election debates was disappointing. The President bragged about a program that relies on threats, punishment and failure as a change strategy, a policy that narrows the curriculum, dilutes the quality of the educational diet and relies upon simple-minded testing strategies to provoke success. He bragged about educational spending increases that are insufficient to cover the enormous extra expenses required by NCLB mandates.

Sadly, Senator Kerry clung to the NCLB cause with only a vague nod toward adjustment. He did little to enlighten the public or show that he understood the damage being done. He, like his partner from Massachusetts, Senator Kennedy, was immersed in the mythology that led to the original passage of NCLB, the false promises that delight the President and the right wing proponents who are intent on destroying the public system and opening up the floodgates to a myriad of alternative programs, spreading an already exhausted funding pie across a larger student population.

A New Brand of Management

Much of the work being done to comply with NCLB at the school level is mind numbing in its ignorance of sound practice and healthy education. School leaders are being forced into a new brand of management that is about compliance, data driven program development, threat, enforcement and dictation. Programs are being selected on false "research-based" premises and installed as scripted, mechanized efforts that deny the value of teachers' accumulated craft knowledge.

"Forget what you know. We know what works best."

Father Knows Best

As someone who has witnessed educational trends first hand for some four decades now as a teacher and school leader, I am shocked by the autocratic nature of the so-called reforms coming down from Washington. I am dismayed by both parties' willingness to endorse such strategies.

We are witnessing a shameful dismantling of state rights and local control, the imposition of narrow agendas and program choices by a cadre of bureaucrats whose educational credentials and track records are frequently not credible.

See "Beltway Bosses: It's Beltway or the Highway - DC Reading Bosses Dictate Programs for the Big Apple" at

What we have is a paternalistic regime imposing a particular approach to education on an entire nation through an intricate and often nonsensical collection of rules and procedures that guarantees a large percentage of schools will fail even while they may be improving. We have already seen schools rewarded by states for dramatic improvement but failed by the Feds because of arcane rules that fail an entire school on technicalities.

It is startling to watch the NCLB juggernaut thundering across the nation, destroying decades of good work and accumulated wisdom. It is especially startling because there has been so much silence and so little clearly voiced opposition.

Sadly, we have a re-elected President who thinks he has done good works while doing great damage. We are seeing the folly called "The Texas Miracle" imposed on an entire nation, an educational flimflam scheme that actually damages children and relies upon false indicators of success to create the fraudulent impression of progress.

NCLB has its worst impact on the very children it was intended to serve, the economically disadvantaged students who must tolerate the most obsessive efforts to convert schools into fast food restaurants serving nothing but the educational equivalent of fries and burgers.

Have it Our Way or the Higway!

How ironic that we claim to bring democracy to Iraq while undermining basic democratic principles and norms at home with the way we impose NCLB on schools.

There is a remarkable tendency for the Ed Department to dictate, to sermonize, to impose and to threaten. Cloaking partisan approaches to education under pseudo-scientific claims of "research-based" prescriptions, the Ed Department has become a haven for bureaucrats who will leave behind a legacy of rampant experimentation and destruction.

It may take a decade or more for this nation to wake up to the folly of NCLB. Meanwhile millions of children will suffer through a second rate education that deprives them of their democratic birth rights and condemns them to a life of burger flipping and low paid jobs.

© 2004 No Child Left and FNO Press, all rights reserved.
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.