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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #127, June 2010. Copyright 2010, Left Business Observer.
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Charter to nowhere
One of the durable legacies of the Bush administration, aside from two miserable wars and the wreckage of a world-historical credit bubble, is the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, passed within months of George W's taking office. NCLB mandated the restructuring of American public education along the lines of what partisans like to call choice and accountability. That is, parents are supposed to be offered alternatives to traditional public schools (TPS)—and students and their teachers and schools are supposed to be subject to constant testing to evaluate their academic performance. Under NCLB, federal school aid to states was made contingent on improvement in average test scores.
There are many reasons to criticize the law, starting with the testing fetish. Since so much money now hangs on success, states have rampantly cheated in creating their tests; in many states, students have shown remarkable progress that isn't confirmed by the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress. And it's not clear how well a focus on test performance correlates with actual educational outcomes. International comparisons show that despite being the most test-obsessed educational system in the world, U.S. students stack up rather poorly. The starkest contrast is with Finland, which routinely scores at the top of the global league tables, but whose students face only two or three tests during their entire school careers. And, curiously, in Finland, teaching is a revered and well-paid profession; in the U.S., the c