“No Child” Not Working? Unbelievable!

The New York Times today reports the unthinkable: The vaunted No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has done almost nothing to shrink the black-white achievement gap, and the credit the Bush administration has given the law for overall achievement gains is – get ready – unfounded! Writes the Times:

The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a battery of reading and math tests administered to thousands of students in every state, showed some rising scores for all ethnic groups, and the black-white score gap narrowed in a statistically significant way for fourth-grade math. But on fourth-grade reading, and on eighth-grade reading and math, the black-white and Hispanic-white gaps were statistically unchanged from the early 1990s.

Over the past three decades, the gaps narrowed steadily from the 1970s through the late 1980s but then leveled out through 1999. Since then, some have narrowed again, but at a rate that would allow them to persist for decades. That picture showed up in a separate National Assessment test devised to measure long-term trends, administered in late 2003 and early 2004.

That test showed that regardless of race, scores increased a bit over three decades for 9- and 13-year-old students, with the best gains coming between 1999 and 2004.

Test administrators warned against attributing those gains to the federal law, because it had been in effect for about only a year when the 2004 test was given…..But Bush administration officials have routinely credited the law for the improved scores on that test.

Many Democrats who originally supported NCLB, as you can imagine, have put the blame for its failure squarely on Bush. Unfortunately, their own solutions feel distinctly like old times are here again:

The findings pose a challenge not only for Mr. Bush but also for the Democratic lawmakers who joined him in negotiating the original law…and who will control education policy in Congress next year.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative George Miller of California, who are expected to be the chairmen of the Senate and House education committees, will promote giving more resources to schools and researching strategies to improve minority performance, according to aides.

Of course! More resources and “researching strategies” are the keys to real change. Why didn’t anyone else think of that?

Oh wait. They did: Federal spending on elementary and secondary education leapt from $43.8 billion in FY 2000 to $68.0 billion in FY 2005, a 55 percent increase, and NCLB imposed a whole new strategy of unprecedented federal control onto the schools. Yet, somehow, nothing changed.

Thankfully, there is a strategy that really could help struggling students get the education they need, but it would require embracing real change. First, the federal government would have to get out of education, ending more than 40 years of demonstrated failure and pulling some of the worst politics out of America’s classrooms. That, however, would not be enough, because while federal politicians are the most shameless about claiming victory in the face of abject failure, state and local politicians aren’t much better. There must, therefore, be a second phase: All states must offer universal school choice, finally putting parents in charge of education, and ending the era of strategies hopelessly built on politicians’ empty rhetoric and broken promises.