The Obama administration is committed to the testing and school accountability at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law championed by former President George W. Bush, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
In a speech prepared for delivery Thursday, Duncan gave the law credit for shining a spotlight on kids who need the most help. No Child Left Behind pushes schools to boost the performance of minority and poor children, who lag behind their white peers on standardized tests.
Duncan said there is plenty he wants to change about the law. He agreed with critics that standardized tests are not ideal measures of student achievement. Yet "they are the best we have at the moment," Duncan said.
Accountability is absolutely essential to success -- in anything. Testing isn't perfect, but it is a good way of measuring academic achievement, and we must measure academic achievement if we are to have accountability. Kudos to the president for recognizing this and supporting a practical approach to improving education.
Then there's the bad news:
Duncan said kids can't afford more delays. After nearly half a century of direct federal involvement in schools, he said, "we are still waiting for the day when every child in America has a high quality education that prepares him or her for the future.
This isn't surprising. From the outset, there was no reason to believe that direct federal involvement in schools would improve things, and good reason to believe it would make things worse. The notion that bureaucrats in Washington have the talent, knowledge, and skills to efficiently manage an enterprise that serves a nation of over 300 million is fundamentally flawed. This is as true of education as any other industry.
Sadly, we now have 50 years of evidence to prove it. Sadder still is that we will ignore the evidence and cling to the irrational idea that if we just do more of the wrong thing the situation will improve.