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"Boston Legal" Produces Diatribe Against NCLB

| 8 Comments

First "Family Guy," then "Boston Legal" takes a shot at NCLB.

A tipster reports from his iPhone that Tuesday's episode entitled "No Brains Left Behind" portrayed NCLB in a negative light. In it, a girl is expelled for shredding tests and is charged under state law for tampering with the exams. In the courtroom, she goes into a diatribe against NCLB and testing. (Note: I haven't seen the episode. "Boston Legal" isn't one of the shows available on ABC's Web site. All I found was this plot summary, which alludes to the girls expulsion but doesn't mention NCLB.)

It's not the first time "Boston Legal" has lashed out against the law. In a January 2006 show, Michael J. Fox's character says: “We treat our teachers like crap…. And the government in their ‘No Child Left Behind’ law has created a monster.” That's according to a timeline about NCLB events posted by the Arizona Education Association.

Back in 2003, my former colleague Michelle Galley interviewed a communications expert about how the Bush administration was branding the phrase "No Child Left Behind."

"What's brilliant is that no one can argue with" not wanting to leave a child behind, said Jessica Schwartz Hahn, then the executive vice president of Widmeyer Communications.

Today, though, the meaning of the phrase has turned into something else. Judging from the portrayal on prime time this week, Americans think of testing and unfair expulsion when they hear the phrase "No Child Left Behind."

I ask: Does that make it, as Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said "the most tainted brand in America?"

My tipster asks: Will the Hollywood writers strike be good for NCLB?

UPDATE: Eduflack also writes up the "Boston Legal" episode. He describes the girl in the NCLB plot line as "a high-achieving high school student stealing her school's standardized tests to spotlight the inadequacies of high-stakes testing." He also offers a correction: The girl was not charged with a crime; she went to court to overturn her expulsion.

As for NCLB's status as a brand, here's what Eduflack says: "The only positive out of all this, I suppose, is that NCLB is known well enough as a brand that it can stand as a story line on a top prime-time television program, without needing explanation or set-up. As silly as blaming NCLB for our high school woes may be, those TV producers assume that their viewers know NCLB, know the issues around AYP and high-stakes testing, and will buy into the concerns over teaching to the test and preparing students for the challenges of the future. Maybe the NCLB brand name is better recognized than Eduflack has assumed"

8 Comments

Well. The television moguls appear

to believe everyone is well versed

in the terms of the NCLB Act,

but I will just state that one

"doth protest too much"

seems to apply.

I did see the episode, and I

thought it very interesting that

the sit-coms are taking such

cheap potshots at our education laws while

they continue to

create television

shows that do much more damage than

the NCLB Act ever could.

Just my opinion. Thanks

The tainting of the NCLB brand--to use that language--is unfortunate for two reasons. One, it follows the sound byte summary of education policy with a sound byte rejection of that policy without the understanding and meaningful dialogue on the part of the public, or even the teaching profession, that might lead to improvement. Two, I would suggest that it is part and parcel of the tainting of the American brand. The ease with which we take "I'm from the government and I'm here to help," to be the punchline of a joke. When a democracy arrives at a point of rejecting its own government, I believe it stands at peril.

Which has done more harm, lousy TV and the commercialism it promotes or NCLB?

Not even NCLB has tainted American democracy as much as the media. Once, TV was supposed to bring utopian results. Its no surprise that NCLB and TV have joined the ranks of depersonalized visions that have failed to transform humanity.

But we can light candles and not just curse the darkness.

Margo, you wrote in another blog questioning reforms that don't trasnsform education. But look at the great successes of the 20thj century such a removing lead and indoor plumbing. Had they been accompanied by a great system of accountability, they would have been more cost effective. But think of all the things we could do to bring incremental improvements to the lives of our children that do not depend solely on accountability.

Speaking of the American brand, how did we come to believe that Americans will only rise to challenges if they are coerced into it by centralized government? Governmental mandates have often played a role, but it has always been in support of the actions of dedicated human beings.

I watched the Boston Legal episode which addressed NCLB -- as a Special Educator, I applaud the writers and producers of this show!!! It is my experience NCLB DOES leave many children behind. I have been an educator for many years, and love my professsion. When I have talked to teachers and administrators from state to state, I have yet to meet a teacher or administrator who feels NCLB is helpful. I thought the edisode of Boston Legal was great!!!!

I watched the Boston Legal episode which addressed NCLB -- as a Special Educator, I applaud the writers and producers of this show!!! It is my experience NCLB DOES leave many children behind. I have been an educator for many years, and love my professsion. When I have talked to teachers and administrators from state to state, I have yet to meet a teacher or administrator who feels NCLB is helpful. I thought the edisode of Boston Legal was great!!!!

I did not view the entire Boston Legal episode but unless it was a complete mischaracterization I applaud any attempt to call into question many of the regulatory fantasies of NCLB. Not to belabor the point made by many critics,but there is little or no proof of credible benefits derived from all but the most obviously needed sections. Of course we should stop educational institutions from cheating some children out of a decent education.We did not need the political leaders to tell us that. The very same political leaders who have allowed many of the root causes of the problem to continue and sometimes have amplified the problems with their social and educational laws and funding practices.

Based on commonly available data from sources which are generally considered impartial, there are no independent measures of statewide or national improvements except for the highly suspect state testing programs themselves which were created by the standards and accountability portions of NCLB. Where are the gains on NAEP or SAT assessments? Indeed, a casual observer of responsible education journalism would come to a curious conclusion. No relationship; perhaps an inverse relationship between standards and independent measures of student achievement. Over the years Education Week has published an annual review of such information. States with the strongest accountability measures had some of the poorest scores on NAEP. Moreover, many states which had high passing rates on their own tests had very poor results on NAEP. How could this be?

To the extent NCLB has funneled money to the most needy students, bravo! All the rest is politics as usual. But we know that, because we are part of the problem, for the politics of educators often mirrors that of those in governmental leadership positions. So shame on them and shame on us.

Anything that brings the issue of the NCLB Law to the attention of the general public is a good thing, for it is the public's schools that are being condemned by this law that puts testing children above all else. Good for Boston Legal. Apathy is not something that helps children who are being pressured at school and at home to raise test scores at all costs to them and their famalies.

families.

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