Poor Analysis of No Child Left Behind in the Washington Post

“Gifted advocate” Susan Goodkin has an interesting, if flawed, criticism of No Child Left Behind in the Washington Post: that it damages the prospects of “our most capable children.” Essentially, Goodkin argues that NCLB forces districts and schools to become so obsessed with improving the scores of low-achieving students that they neglect students who are gifted.

Goodkin’s analysis is simplistic and incorrect. The assumption that there is a necessary tradeoff between resources for low achieving students and gifted ones isn’t proven. In fact, there is no compelling argument that the answer isn’t targeting educational resources better, or developing programs for each group of students.

Her arguments also ignore the fact that there is a huge gap in educational funding available to minority students–and the predominantly minority schools that are struggling under NCLB requirements. And, as Eduwonk points out, those students are hugely underrepresented in gifted education.

The great disgrace of American education has been an absolute failure to address the great needs of our students who live in poverty and our schools that struggle with huge disparities in resources. The Education Trust has a sobering take on these continuing disparities:

Every year, thousands of American children enter school already behind. Most Americans are well aware of that fact. What they often don’t know, however, is that instead of organizing our educational systems to make things better for these children, we organize our systems of public education in ways that make things worse. One way we do that is by simply spending less in schools serving high concentrations of low income and minority children than we do on schools serving more affluent and White children.
In other words, we take children who have less to begin with and give them less in school, too.

[Incidentally, in Montana the gap between revenues available per student in the highest and lowest poverty districts in 2003 was $1,202. Massachusetts, the state that consistently kicks the nation’s ass in tests, averaged over $400 more per student in high poverty districts.]

The answer to the failure of American schools is certainly not demonizing programs that focus attention on low-achieving students, many of whom have never been given an equal chance to succeed. Punishing students for the institutional failures of schools isn’t the answer, either. As flawed as NCLB is, the core is right–before the law mandated improving the educational outcomes of students at the bottom, many districts just ignored them–or drove them out. Blaming those students for wanting more attention and a chance to succeed is clearly not appropriate for a democratic society, nor is it effective education.

more complaining about the article below–just nitpicking

I encourage you to read the entire article–and might ask my students to do so as well, for examples of unsupported claims. Without ever citing a study, Goodkin claims:

  • [teachers] face no penalties for failing to meet the needs of high-scoring students.
  • Not surprisingly, with the entire curriculum geared to ensuring that every last child reaches grade-level proficiency, there is precious little attention paid to the many children who master the standards…
  • Shockingly, studies establish that up to 20 percent of high school dropouts are gifted.
  • How much money will administrators allocate to providing advanced courses? How many of the most experienced teachers will teach honors, rather than remedial, classes?
  • At least Susan is familiar with hyperbole. As for the last comment, it may be the most inane remark in the entire article. Anyone with experience in American education knows that the most experienced teachers are not toiling away in remedial classes. Not even close to true.