October 15, 2008 5:23PM

NCLB Moment of Truth

Even if some people won’t admit it, by now everyone understands that the No Child Left Behind Act is just one, big, perverse incentive, an obnoxious federal law that practically screams at states, “lie about ‘proficiency’ and ‘accountability.’ As long as I can prattle on about caring for all children, I don’t care what you do!”

Despite this widespread understanding, it’s rare to catch a public official actually admitting to gaming the law, which is what makes this bit from Monday’s New York Times ickily refreshing:

Why did California decide on six years of relatively slow achievement growth, followed by six years of extraordinary gains? Officials from many states told the Bush administration in 2002 that they needed time to write new tests and accustom teachers to them.

But the California state school superintendent, Jack O’Connell, said he also bet that Congress might change the law in 2007, perhaps by removing its 100 percent proficiency goal. “It’s true that was in the back of my mind when we negotiated our plan with the feds,” Mr. O’Connell said. “And I’d do the same thing again. I’m still hoping a new administration will change the law.”

Thanks for the candor, Mr. O’Connell. It concisely illustrates why NCLB and its predecessors have been failures, and why the only way to improve education is to give parents, not politicians, power over the schools.