The intentions behind NCLB were good, and the assessment of a fundamental public schooling flaw—families have little power—was dead on. But the practical effect was to concentrate power even further from families and communities, putting it in Washington, D.C. And the law relied on essentially one measure—standardized test scores—to determine “good” or “bad” performers, and did so without accounting for unique situations, from poverty levels to English‐language learner concentrations, before slapping labels and sanctions on schools and districts.
Senator Sanders is right to criticize NCLB. But he is greatly mistaken to also attack school choice, which he does based on some charter schools being managed by for‐profit companies, most being non‐union, and none supposedly being “publicly accountable.”
The fact is, only school choice empowers families to hold their schools accountable by controlling education dollars, especially low‐income families who cannot afford to buy expensive homes to escape schools they feel are not serving them well. “Public” accountability, in contrast, is dependency, forcing the poor to rely on political processes and bureaucracies to make schools work. But such processes tend to leave the poor and political minorities largely powerless; they have neither the elite political networks, nor often the sheer size, to significantly influence political decisions.
There is one other thing: All children, families, and communities are different, so no one system could serve them all equally no matter how much political power they had.
In addition to shunting choice aside, Senator Sanders suggests that “underinvestment in our schools” is a major problem.
How one defines “underinvestment” is, of course, crucial, but by what measures we have it is tough to see anything like major underfunding. For one thing, we spend more per‐pupil on elementary and secondary education than almost any other industrialized nation. Moreover, as the graph below shows, while there was a decrease in inflation‐adjusted spending as a result of the Great Recession, it came after decades of almost unremitting spending increases, and we are almost back at record levels. What has been stagnant , at least since the late 1980s, is average teacher salaries, but that is because the money has been spent elsewhere, especially on other staff.