Congress has taken up renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act, with a major hearing in the House education committee. Unfortunately, despite little evidence that NCLB has done any good, there’s no reason to believe Congress will improve it. After more than a century of industrial-era schooling, policy-makers are still unwilling to do what’s necessary and turn public education on its head.
NCLB’s results have been ambiguous at best. The most positive news has come from the Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank, which found that scores on state tests have risen under NCLB. But CEP only had usable pre- and post-NCLB scores for 13 states and could do full analyses for only seven.
Nationally representative measures offer worse news: Improvements on National Assessment of Educational Progress math exams have slowed under NCLB, and reading outcomes have either stagnated or declined, depending on the grade.
These outcomes should be no surprise. The federal Institute for Education Sciences recently confirmed that states are in a race to the bottom on standards, setting them as low as possible so they’re easy to hit. But that’s just symptomatic of a more basic problem: No matter how revolutionary politicians say laws like NCLB are, they always preserve the same institutional structures we’ve had for more than a century, in which politicians and bureaucrats have all the power, and parents and children have none.