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Former NCES Commissioner: NCLB Has Not Met Its Goals


This is the the second blog post I've written this week about Mark Schneider, the former commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. Must be because he's been saying some interesting things lately.8nces-schneider.jpg

Schneider, in a blog item for the American Enterprise Institute, examines the recent NAEP 4th and 8th grade results and concludes that the No Child Left Behind Act "has not worked the way it was intended and the nation is worse off because of it."

The former chief of the NCES, the U.S. Department of Education's statistical office, bases his argument on a breakdown of 4th and 8th grade test scores in seven years pre-NCLB compared with scores after the federal law took effect, from 2003 on. The gains for the overall student population, and for black and Hispanic students, in the pre-NCLB period were greater. He also says that the law has created an incentive for states to water down performance standards and assessments, in their rush to get to meet proficiency thresholds (an issue he examined as NCES commissioner). The new NAEP scores are bound to heighten the debate over the reauthorization of NCLB, he says.

Schneider's argument is likely to surprise some folks, because he was nominated to the NCES post in 2005 by President George W. Bush and served as statistics chief during his administration's second term. (Bush, of course, signed No Child Left Behind into law and actively promoted it.) But Schneider, a longtime academic scholar, also won a reputation for objectivity during his time at the NCES. Some of his research, such as a book he co-authored that described mixed results for charter schools, had little in common with the administration's political philosophies. So in that sense, people who know Schneider and his work aren't likely to be surprised that he's calling it like he sees it now.


I'm not certain what Dr. Schneider is advocating. However, if he is advocating eliminating standardized assessments, I think that he is missing the mark. Just because the current form of these assessments may not be working does not mean that we should eliminate them all together. Instead we should tweak them so that they work better. The truth is that educational administrators, teachers and students must be held accountable for their achievement. This is an incredibly difficult goal in the huge educational system that exists in our nation.

Andrew Pass

I've been out of town and am catching up on EdWeek news in a dozen e-mails; pretty daunting. I can understand Dr. Schneider's views. My decades in the classroom made me question any emphasis on test scores that seemed to focus on numbers rather than on ideas, on building intellectual curiosity. We have had the NAEP tests on representative demographic sectors for a national view. The annual normed tests showed us individual children's progress. Meanwhile, teachers could integrate subject areas with themes and involve students in activities representing things that happen in our world of work. They were motivated and enthusiastic, and above all, curious to learn more. We'd do well to return to units and themes -- "old school" with future potential.

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