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Harvard Prof. Peterson: Dumping No Child Left Behind Would Be a Mistake

By Dan Weil   |   Wednesday, 07 Aug 2013 03:44 PM

The Obama administration, teachers unions, and some Republicans are working to gut the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, and that's a mistake, says Paul Peterson, a Harvard government professor and director of its Program on Education Policy and Governance.

NCLB started in 2002 and focused on the poor performance of African-American and Hispanic students, he explains in The Wall Street Journal. The law required students of all backgrounds to achieve proficiency by 2014. Standardized tests were introduced to measure progress.

Democrats scored hefty donations from teachers unions in 2008 by "campaigning aggressively against No Child's testing and accountability provisions," Peterson says.

"We can meet high standards without forcing teachers and students to spend most of the year preparing for a single high-stakes test," then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said.

Once in office, Obama dropped enforcement of most of the law's main elements and granted waivers to states that volunteered for more lenient rules created by the Education Department, Peterson says. Forty states have received waivers so far, he reports.

Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee has passed a bill to allow students to hand in "portfolios" or "projects" instead of the standardized tests initially required.

And the House approved legislation in July that would allow state and local governments to come up with their own ways to evaluate school performance, instead of relying on the federal government.

Peterson presents data to show NCLB was working well until Obama came into office. For example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that among nine-year olds, whites improved 11 percentage points in math from 1999 to 2008, African-Americans improved 13 points and Hispanics improved 21 points.

In reading, whites gained 7 points, blacks gained 8 points and Hispanics gained 14 points.

"Those remarkable gains came to an end after the Obama administration took charge," Peterson says. From 2008 to 2012, black nine-year olds improved just 2 points in each subject, and Hispanics increased 1 point in reading and zero in math. Whites added 1 point in reading and 2 points in math.

"Given these numbers, the Obama administration's current efforts to suspend accountability provisions seem entirely misguided," Peterson writes.

"Instead, the White House should extend the provisions of the original No Child Left Behind law by requiring high-school students to meet similarly high standards. If we scrap student and teacher accountability, we are failing our kids."

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