by Melissa Mackenzie
Twenty years ago, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the legislation intended to save American children from stupidity and the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” became law. Ten years later, Common Core came to the fore. They both failed. Like all liberal ideas, they started with good intentions and government intervention and ended in cheating, lying, and wasted taxpayer money.
NCLB was passed in the Senate in June 2001 and ratified into law in January 2002, with a bipartisan effort from George W. Bush and the Big Man of the Senate, Teddy Kennedy. As far as government responses to tragedy go, NCLB got buried under an endless war, but like so many government programs continues to harm the public to this day.
When NCLB failed to produce desired outcomes, President Obama decided that the answer was more federal control, and more money. Enter Bill Gates, the Gates Foundation, and Common Core. But first NCLB’s failures from the Mises Institute:
“Those who control the schools control the future.”
More importantly, what are the results of the program? One should keep in mind, however, what Kohn said regarding the scores: the higher test scores may come at the cost of learning. However, in 2006, for example, math and reading test scores dropped significantly, showing that only 32% of high-school students were proficient in math.
What about high-school graduation rates? Surely the rate of graduations is reflective of school quality and efficiency, which No Child Left Behind was supposed to improve. In 2008, a report sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, which was prepared by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, showed that schools in major cities in the United States had a horrible 52% graduation rate after four years; the national average is 70%, which still isn’t good. In areas like Baltimore, with a graduation rate of 34%, Columbus, with a graduation rate of 41%, and Detroit, with an awful rate of 25%, their suburbs are at 80% or higher. These urban areas were supposed to be the ones No Child Left Behind would target.
In 2015, the Obama administration replaced No Child Left Behind with the even more Orwellian program named ESSA: the Every Student Succeeds Act. Like its forebear, ESSA’s outcomes were not great. In fact, one of the promising provisions of NCLB, teacher competence — a teacher had to have mastery of the subject he or she taught — was stripped from ESSA. Unqualified teachers “taught” children.
Now, in 2020, Bill Gates, the rich man trying to remake the world in his image, has new ideas for America. This time, they involve vaccination, vaccination cards, and universal testing requirements. It’s worth noting whether his old ideas have results worth emulating.
George W. Bush believed that American education was failing. He was not wrong. Student test scores were sliding. There were great disparities between school districts and between states. Like today, poor children were being left behind.
Politicians on the left agreed with George W. Bush. Moreover, after the hyper-partisanship of the Clinton years, George W. Bush wanted to heal America with “compassionate conservatism” borne of Christian charity. Bush, like Ted Kennedy in the Senate, was possessed of a certain noblesse oblige. He came from a great American family and was tasked with glorious purpose, as Loki would say. He wanted to heal the nation by reaching across the aisle for his first action in Congress. No Child Left Behind was born.
NCLB would tie federal funds to schools improving test scores and successful outcomes. It didn’t take long for school districts, especially districts with the most challenging student populations, to realize that to get the federal dollars, they’d need to game the system. Test-taking scandals popped up across the country, most notably in Atlanta, Georgia. Teachers and administrators were implicated in taking tests for students to goose averages and qualify for federal and private grants.
One teacher, Shani Robinson, refused to plead guilty to the crimes and wrote a book about the experience. She says in an NPR interview (after the obligatory racism allegations):
when you think about cheating on standardized tests, this is something that was happening over the entire country. Over 40 states have had cheating allegations — 14 of those states, it’s been known to be widespread cheating. In Washington, D.C. there were 103 schools that were flagged for high levels of suspiciously high test scores. And so to think that what happened in Atlanta was, you know, like an anomaly — you know, that was the biggest thing: Why were the educators in Atlanta charged with racketeering when this was happening over the entire country?
Despite this debacle, the Obama administration decided that problem with No Child Left Behind was that the legislation didn’t go far enough. NCLB let states and local school districts create the curriculum to teach to the standardized tests. It was up to them to improve their scores. Because primary education had always been the most local of politics, even introducing national testing was controversial. But, according to the Obama administration, local school districts couldn’t be trusted to teach the right things.
Enter Common Core. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Eight years of NCLB had resulted in lowered test scores. President Obama would save education, and tech billionaire Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation would help him. Philip Brand of Capital Research writes an excellent history of the program:
Enter the Common Core State Standards Initiative. In April 2009 representatives from 41 states met with representatives of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and agreed to draft a set of common standards for education. All the states, except Alaska and Texas, signaled their initial support. The standards, which outline what American students should know in grades K-12 in both math and English, were drawn up by a coalition that included schoolteachers, college professors and curriculum specialists, and Achieve, Inc., an education nonprofit (2008 revenues: $7.4 million) created in 1995 by state governors and corporate leaders concerned about education. The standards were then reviewed by the teachers unions and by state departments of education. It was the release of this 500-page document that was celebrated at Peachtree Ridge High.
No, Georgia was not picked to launch Common Core by accident. And far from locally driven standards, Common Core was adopted almost wholesale from the Gates Foundation’s initiatives. Gates Foundation grants and a snappy, newly named campaign, Race to the Top, had school districts competing for foundation grants to teach struggling kids.
Did Common Core work? Did the millions of Gates Foundation dollars make a difference? Nope. In 2019, the New York Times blared, “Reading Scores on National Exam Decline in Half the States.” Far from being a success, national standards and financial incentives had made the weaknesses among American students universal and diminished any strengths they might have had.
Washington, D.C., conservative intellectuals felt that the benefits of Race to the Top and Common Core outweighed the negatives. Meanwhile, conservative activists hated both the substance of Common Core and the federal government taking over education. In addition to opposition the bank bailouts, “school choice” became a Tea Party mantra. The argument for school, and parent, choice in educating children is stronger today than ever before, despite over 20 years — and, if one goes back to Lyndon Johnson’s efforts, 50 years — of federal meddling in education.
If American teachers hate NCLB and Common Core, American parents loathe it, and for good reason. Both federal programs sought to modify more than just teaching standards. They aimed to change the behavior of American parents, especially. The underlying premise was that involved parents create smarter kids. The solution, then, was to force parents to be involved. Kindergartners were now coming home with homework, and parents were overwhelmed with ridiculous projects. As more women entered the workforce and as more of them were single parents, the burdens were nothing short of discriminatory.
Education was front-loaded. Rather than letting young children run around and play for half the day, teachers were now cramming information into the heads of six- and seven-year-olds. The theory was that a certain amount of learning had to be in a kid’s brain by third grade or he’d be left behind. In practical effect, America’s children are now fatter and dumber. They’re denied play time, they are full of pent-up energy and anxiety, and they’re doped up on ADD medicine to suppress them. They hate school, and their growth is stunted.
Then there was the inane curriculum itself. Math became a convoluted mess. Parents are still teaching their kids the “old” way, and then teachers teach kids to the tests with Common Core math. As the above test scores illustrate, the reading curriculum is no better.
One of the “successes” of Common Core was that the dropout rate declined and more kids graduated. But school districts gamed that, too. They wouldn’t count kids who were withdrawn by parents or kids who were moved to alternative private schools for difficult children. These schools, often for-profit, would take the most at-risk kids, and then those kids would be “off the books” for school systems wanting to hit benchmarks.
Twenty years federalizing primary education has resulted in a dumber America. Now, with big-city teachers unions rebelling against doing their jobs because of COVID, the most needy children aren’t being educated at all. Since these unions control the Democrat party, don’t expect any helpful innovation anytime soon.
In fact, the new Democrat craze is to get rid of standardized testing. The answer to stupid children, evidently, is to not test them at all, as testing is “racist.” Getting rid of standardized testing means that schools may reduce their standards and not have any proof of success. Meanwhile, America gets less competitive.
Why is all this important? Besides the obvious implications regarding the fruitless national educational standards, the players trying to enforce these standards are all back in power.
The Obama administration will be running America for a third term. They favor more government power. The current COVID crisis plays into their governing biases. The government must fix the COVID problem.
An older, still utopian, Bill Gates is back, too. He has been funding vaccine research and vaccination programs around the world. This is noble. Just as funding education standards and attempting to help school districts educate children is noble. These are objectively good motives.
But federal attempts and the public-private sector partnerships being created to attack these big issues tend to fall flat and end up in places not intended.
Recently, Gates was on Jake Tapper’s show on CNN opining that America should be shut down, maybe through 2022. Two whole more years? This is insanity that only sounds sane to people who can afford to never leave their palatial homes again.
Already, Americans will be given vaccination cards (which they can keep in their wallets!) to prove that they’re vaccinated. Want to go to a concert? Better have an app to prove your COVID status. Want to fly on a plane? Better have an app. Activists are again warning against the possible implications of COVID government power grabs. Like warnings about home loans and education, these sensible statements are getting lost.
Bill Gates has great incentive to push universal vaccination. He funded the research into the vaccines. He stands to profit if there are millions of buyers. Americans are right to be concerned about federal pushes. The consequences in the past have been disastrous.
Government intervention often leads to unintended results. As we learned last week, liberalized home loans lead to bank bailouts and a near-total financial collapse. Government intervention in education, with help from Gates, has resulted in dumber students, frustrated parents, and the desire to ditch all standardized testing. These are bad outcomes.
When it comes to the COVID crisis, Americans are smart to be skeptical. Government interventions pave the road to hell. There’s no reason to believe that these interventions will be an exception.
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Melissa Mackenzie is Publisher of The American Spectator. Melissa commentates for the BBC and has appeared on Fox. Her work has been featured at The Guardian, PJ Media, and was a front page contributor to RedState. Melissa commutes from Houston, Texas to Alexandria, VA. She lives in Houston with her two sons, one daughter, and two diva rescue cats. You can follow Ms. Mackenzie on Twitter: @MelissaTweets.
Photo “Bill Gates” by Bill Gates.