Why "No Child Left Behind" Is Nuts
February 18, 2007, 04:00 AM
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A reader who teaches math in a public high school in northern Orange County, California recounted the following dialogue with one of his students:

Student: "My mom is 28 years old."

Teacher: "How old are you?"

Student: "Fifteen."

Teacher: "So, your mother had you when she was thirteen?"

Student: "Wow! You can do that in your head that fast?"

Teacher: "Uh, well, uh, don't worry about it. That's why I'm a math teacher!"

And his student went away happy, self-esteem reassured by knowing that only nerdy math teachers can quickly subtract 15 from 28.

Meanwhile, America's Great and Good carry on making plans for America's schools based on assumptions that wouldn't survive an hour in an average classroom. (Not that they would ever send their kids to a typical school.)

The Aspen Institute's bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind, co-chaired by former governors Tommy Thompson and Roy E. Barnes and paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (among others), has just issued 75 recommendations for improving the NCLB legislation when it comes up for renewal by Congress this year.

Despite the many small reforms advocated in the Commission's report "Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation's Children" (222 page PDF), not one word of criticism is uttered against the original legislation's most important and implausible requirement: "that all children should reach a proficient level of academic achievement by 2014" in math and reading.

The report declares this goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 to be "audacious … morally right … and attainable."

What they don't mention about this demand: It's nuts.

"Proficient" is a technical term in Ed-speak—the second highest of the five levels of achievement in school testing, roughly equivalent to a solid B. So the NCLB law requires that all students be B students within seven years…just like in Garrison Keillor's fictional Lake Wobegon, "where all the children are above average."

My original assumption was that the Commission was cynically aware that NCLB is a bad joke. Yet it is also naively recommending plugging the crucial loophole that might make "100 percent proficiency" almost achievable on paper.

In the current NCLB, which was largely the result of an alliance between President Bush and Senator Kennedy (who are also the two leading advocates for "comprehensive immigration reform"—hmmm!). Each state is allowed to concoct its own test to determine whether its own students have reached "proficiency," which the state can define however it pleases.

Not surprisingly, practically every single state cheats in order to meet the law. For example, Mississippi, that intellectual powerhouse, recently declared that 89 percent of its 4th graders were at least "proficient" in reading.

Unfortunately, however, on the federal government's impartial National Assessment of Educational Progress test, only 18 percent of Mississippi students were "proficient" or "advanced."

(The most honest state, surprisingly enough: Louisiana—with Missouri, Massachusetts, and South Carolina deserving honorable mentions.)

Overall, the typical state claimed that 68 percent of its 4th graders were proficient readers, compared to the 30 percent found by the honest NAEP.

Corruption this blatant didn't escape even the Commission's notice:

"Most significantly, the fact that NCLB allows states to set their own standards has led to wide and unacceptable variations in expectations across states. Many states have not set standards high enough or they have chosen to set a low bar for what constitutes proficiency. … Therefore, we recommend the development of voluntary model national content and performance standards and tests in reading or language arts, mathematics and science based on NAEP frameworks."

In other words, the Commission is so clueless that it didn't realize that the fraud built into the NCLB wasn't a problem, it was a solution. Bald-faced swindling on a colossal scale is the only imaginable way of reaching the NCLB's goal of making every kid in the country into a B student by 2014. Requiring states to achieve an impossible level of performance, but not providing any system for disinterested outsiders to measure the states' performance, was a massive hint that the states were supposed to cheat.

You can see just how much bamboozling is necessary by looking at the NAEP results. On the federal government's 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam for 8th graders, reading scores were distributed like this:

  Advanced (A):   3 percent
  Proficient (B): 28 percent
  Basic (C): 42 percent
  Below & Far Below Basic (D & F): 27 percent

So 69 percent of American 8th graders are under the 2014 legally mandated requirement of proficiency.

And their 2005 performance was even worse than in 2002, the year the NCLB started. Then, only 67 percent were below proficiency.

At this rate of (negative) progress, achieving 100 percent proficiency won't take just until 2014—it will take until, oh, the Twelfth of Never.

Blacks' and Hispanics' achievement shortcomings are even more overwhelming according to the NCLB: 88 percent of blacks and 85 percent of Hispanics fell short of proficiency in 2005.

Similarly, in math, 70 percent of all 8th graders were less than proficient.

In its wisdom, the Commission also called for Congress to mandate 100 percent proficiency in science as well—even though 71 percent of 8th graders weren't up to that mark in 2005.

A report prepared for the Campaign for Educational Equity by Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder sums up the absurdity of NCLB in its title: "'Proficiency for All' – An Oxymoron." They point out:

"In its administration of NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education barely acknowledges this human variability. … Under NCLB, children with I.Q.s as low as 65 must achieve a standard of proficiency in math which is higher than that achieved by 60 percent of students in Taiwan, the highest scoring country in the world (in math), and a standard of proficiency in reading which is higher than that achieved by 65 percent of students in Sweden, the highest scoring country in the world (in reading)."

Here's the really fascinating thing about the broad support for NCLB.

In private, virtually every single person in America understands that human beings are highly diverse in mental capabilities.

They just won't acknowledge it in public.

For example, let's take the man who, more than anybody else, paid for the Commission on NCLB's report endorsing the essential lunacy of NCLB: Bill Gates.

Now, Gates didn't get to be the richest man in the world by trusting in the philosophy upon which the NCLB law is based: that absolutely every individual can be intellectually proficient.

Instead, Gates hires the highest IQ employees he can find. Rich Karlgaard, former editor of Forbes ASAP, reminisced in the Wall Street Journal about a journey he took with Gates in 1993:

"During that trip, I must have heard Mr. Gates mention 'IQ' a hundred times. The obsession with smarts is embedded deep in Mr. Gates' thinking and long ago was institutionalized at Microsoft. Apply for a job and you'll face an oral grilling that probes for IQ. It is oral and informal because of Griggs v. Duke Power, the 1971 Supreme Court ruling that banished written IQ tests and 'tests of an abstract nature' from job applications. But Microsoft knows what it wants. It wants IQ." [Microsoft's IQ Dividend, By Rich Karlgaard July 28, 2004, (Pay Archive)]

This complete contradiction between what Gates knows to be true in his personal affairs, and the nonsense that he pays to promulgate in public, is never held against him (or against anybody else). Instead, lying in public is now considered the mark of a good person. The bad people are the ones like Charles Murray who carefully document what everyone else silently knows already.

One of the rare honest reports ("America's Perfect Storm") on the dire implications for America's future of importing unskilled labor came recently from the Educational Testing Service, creator of the SAT. The Christian Science Monitor noted:

Coming US challenge: a less literate workforce
By Amanda Paulson

"US workers may be significantly less literate in 2030 than they are today. …

"The three factors identified are: a shifting labor market increasingly rewarding education and skills, a changing demographic that include a rapid-growing Hispanic population, and a yawning achievement gap, particularly along racial and socioeconomic lines, when it comes to reading and math.

"The individual trends have been identified before, but this study makes an effort to examine their combined effects, and to project a disturbing future, including a sharply declining middle class in addition to the lost ground in literacy.

"'We have the possibility of transforming the American dream into the American tragedy,' says Irwin Kirsch, a senior research director at ETS and the lead author of the study.'" [More]

America's elites have no idea how our schools work (or fail to work), but our students understand the score.

The math teacher in Santa Ana told me of a conversation he had with another of his students the day before the young man was to try for the third time to pass the CAHSEE test, which is now required to graduate from high school in California. (And which, much to the surprise of California's leaders, is causing students to drop out):

Teacher: "So, you ready for the big test?"

Student: "Sure. I've got a good plan. This time I'm not going to cheat off a really dumb guy."

Teacher: "You're going to do it all on your own?"

Student: "Of course not. Tomorrow, I'm going to sit next to an Asian kid."

Not for the first time, PC thinking about human differences—in this case, bipartisan—is heading us for disaster, this time in the area of public education policy. Ironically, our elites also probably think that Asian immigration will bail them out.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]