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Kozol on NCLB


The only real effect of NCLB’s pressured-filled expectations of school-wide improvement, and its emphasis on teacher quality has been to drive away schools’ most valuable resources — highly motivated teachers, says author and education activist Jonathan Kozol in a Chicago Tribune Q&A.

Studies show that school improvement is best achieved through high-quality teaching. But under NCLB, teacher quality and creativity is crushed in an atmosphere that Kozol says turns classrooms into “miserable test-prep factories.”

The former public school teacher argues for less frequent testing, reduced class sizes, and an amendment to the transfer provision that would require states to transfer students in failing schools to high-performing ones.

In the end, Kozol warns against stifling teachers’ spirits, saying “…in the long run the high morale of our teachers is our most precious asset. If they lose their delight in being with the children, they won’t stay, and we’ll lose everything.”


No Child Left Behind came into existence because children were being left behind in the scenario that Kozol describes. Of course, this did not happen in the best schools, where children succeed sometimes with us, and sometimes in spite of us. I have no idea of whether his dire prediction ("we'll lose everything") will come true, but it seems a bit extreme.

What I think would help is ... vouchers for everyone. Students get a voucher and they take it to the school of their choice ... public, private, religious, irreligious ... whatever. The one thing that I know that makes things better is competition ... something which is almost totally lacking in our system. If you could shop at Walmart, and only Walmart, what incentive would they have to keep prices low and provide quality products ... none. It seems simple to me that this concept applies to schools as well as businesses. With a guaranteed source of product and funding, there is little incentive (other than the personal drive of individual instructors) to improve; when one's existence hangs on it, it seems that there would be a LOT more incentive.

Competition is not the answer to everything, unless you want to accept exploitation as a good thing as well. Competition needs to be balanced with cooperative and collaborative learning behaviour. Good teachers care about their students not just the test results. They care about the whole child, not just the child who sits a test on any given day. Kozol is right - we need incentives to keep teaching and doing it creatively. If we do not think about our teaching and how it can be better then we might as well visit our local barber again to have teeth and or legs amputated. We also really need those in 'high offices' to champion our cause, support us in our critical reflection, and support us in enabling learning for all.
I see here in Australia that we are well down the same road as some of you in USA, hopefully the election next week will help us put in a detour.

I don't think we disagree much, if at all, Rod. I think that "competition" (perhaps too American a word) will make schools compete to be better, and teachers compete to make their schools better to maintain/grow their student body. I think this will be done by most of the things that you suggest ... better, more creative, and more effective instruction. Think of the benefit this could be to students who are trapped in failing schools who have no alternative because they have to attend their district school ...

What does surprise me is that this topic didn't get more discussion ... seems important to me ....

I agree with you in being surprised about the lack of discussion around the topic. I think I understand what you mean by competition, taken to mean that thing we find in the free enterprise system. It works when we have choice, ie there are 2 stores offering similar services, and or we have equal access to both. I believe there are many things in our societies that limit this choice, so that some people do not have access to the same services as others. In the long term, competition for students may in fact end up with all schools providing exactly the same services, curriculum, methodology, that they will be too frightened to change, for fear of losing their place. and possibly their funding. How then will we encourage creativity?

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Recent Comments

  • Rod Sutherland: I agree with you in being surprised about the lack read more
  • tim: I don't think we disagree much, if at all, Rod. read more
  • Rod Sutherland: Competition is not the answer to everything, unless you want read more
  • tim: No Child Left Behind came into existence because children were read more




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