As Nancy Pelosi would put it, "Thank God!" No Child Left Behind was one of those brilliantly crafted, Orwellian constructs that was about exactly the opposite of what it's name suggested. In point of fact many children were left behind under this miserable brainchild of George W. Bush and it is certainly welcome that it is finally being reformed.
As Congress, as it often does has been dragging it's feet on reforming NCLB which is as Obama Education Secretary Arnie Duncan says "far too punitive," "far too prescriptive," and filled with perverse incentives, Mr. Duncan has stepped up and instituted much needed changes himself.
For an idea of how punitive, prescriptive, and rigid NCLB is, it requires schools to by 2014 have 100% of students proficient in math and reading. Those schools that fail face severe consequences, including staff dismissals, conversion to a charter school or closure altogether.
Under the new system which Obama will announce today, states will qualify for a waiver from existing rules by setting up new procedures for evaluating teachers and principals, among other changes. The evaluations must be linked to the results of student tests and other measures of performance.
The demands for 100% proficiency are just not realistic and to sanction schools that miss targets is not only punitive it is counter-productive: if a school is failing how does cutting back it's funding and threatening it with a conversion to a charter school or closing it improve it's performance? The incentives are certainly perverse: if the children in a school are not learning properly cut their funding that will teach em!
The punitive attitude is directed at teachers who presumably are unqualified and unmotivated to provide adequate teaching but it really punishes children who need a proper education and without which we'll never improve the lives and communities of America's failing schools.
Indeed while the sorry showing we have made in recent released International test results is a source of concern the hard edges in NLRB are part of the problem rather than the solution. That's why far from being about no child left behind it was structured by Bush to leave many children behind if their school fails to focus obssessively on standardized tests.
"The administration also wants the law -- which passed Congress with broad bipartisan support in 2001 and applies to all public schools receiving federal funding -- to stop labeling so many reasonably managed schools as "failing" for missing required passing rates on state achievement tests, the White House said.
Importantly 45 states worked with the Obama Administration and Duncan on these changes and "most states and the District of Columbia plan to adopt a common set of college and career-ready standards, the officials said."
This is vital as schools do need accountability and the standard should be that students leave high school college ready. But this will take time in many places and require the right policies and support to make it happen not a punitive policy of pass the test, teach the test, or perish.