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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

May 29, 2014 at 3:16 PM

Guest: Waiver loss shines light on absurdity of No Child Left Behind

Dan Magill

Dan Magill

I am not bothered about losing our state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. In fact, this may be one of the best things to happen to education in Washington since standardized testing wrapped its shackles around us last decade.

Losing this waiver is good because it finally exposes No Child Left Behind for the utter foolishness that it is.

Here’s the letter I would send to parents if I worked in the state superintendent’s office:

Dear Mr. And Mrs. Colbert:

We must inform you that your child currently attends a school that has been labeled “failing” or “needs improvement” according to the No Child Left Behind Act.

According to the law, you now have the option of switching your child into a school that is not failing. Unfortunately, because 99 percent of schools in the state have received this label, you’ll have to move out of state to find one.

Otherwise, the instant you enroll your child at a new school, we will send another letter, identical to this one (costing us additional postage and printing), informing you that your situation has not changed.

Therefore, we ask you to consider keeping your child enrolled at his/her present school. In the event of any changes to the law, your school’s status may also change at any moment. By next week, it may turn out to be one of the best in the state.

But right now, under current definitions, it is an utter disaster.



Any system that can result in a 99-percent failure rate reveals only its own failure to properly evaluate and predict what is possible.

Under No Child Left Behind, with its 32 demographic groups that all have to show constant year-over-year growth, if even one group fails, the entire school goes down in flames.

That’s why we see some of the top schools in the area, such as Lincoln High School in Seattle, receiving the “failure” label. If one tiny sub-group, say special-education white students, doesn’t show adequate progress, the entire school is a failure. The 1 percent can bring down the 99 percent in schools, too.

Further, do you know why all the schools are now suddenly considered failures? Because the No Child Left Behind metric they have to meet this year is 100 percent passing.

Paul Tong / Op Art

Paul Tong / Op Art

Nothing in the universe works right 100 percent of the time. No district, anywhere, will ever get 100 percent of its students to pass everything, every year. And they have to, because any drop in “growth” gets you back on the NCLB bad list.

This is education reform in its true light. We needed this. We needed to expose this law.

The correct response to losing the waiver is not to force teachers to be evaluated for things that are outside their control, based on ever-shifting standardized tests and unscientific metrics for growth. No, the correct response is to repeal the bad law.

The NCLB penalty isn’t really designed to take the state’s money. It just takes it away from in-school uses, like tutoring, and forces them to spend it on private tutors. By what magic will these private tutors increase student achievement, and can they please share it with the rest of us?

So many parts of this musty law are terrible — I’m glad the state said no to “must.”

Dan Magill is a high-school teacher in Seattle Public Schools.

Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Dan Magill, No Child Left Behind, waiver


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