Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools

Edited by Deborah Meier and George Wood (Beacon Press, 132 pages, $13.00) BUY NOW!
reviewed by Jill Davidson

I know a principal of a small urban high school who has to defend his school’s mission of meaningful learning as assessed by authentic, high-standard measures against constant demands for “accountability.” It galls me to see how No Child Left Behind’s labels have shaped the expectations of some parents, board members, district officials and funders, how the tendency to look for easy answers has led to the notion that test scores tell all.

I never feel like I can do enough to protect and support this school, to give it the time and space teachers and students need to do the real work of learning and teaching. At least I was able to give my friend Many Children Left Behind.

Produced by members of the Forum for Education and Democracy, its five arguments—seven, counting George Wood’s introduction and Ted Sizer’s preamble—press the case against NCLB emphatically and in great detail, even as they acknowledge, when possible, the light NCLB has shed on the imperative that schools should serve all children well.

Linda Darling-Hammond documents NCLB’s “unmeetable requirements” that guarantee that most public schools inevitably will be labeled as failures. Concluding with suggestions to remake NCLB, Darling-Hammond’s contribution documents other NCLB shortfalls, among them its lack of accountability for financial inequity among schools, its punishment of schools with a wide demographic variety, and its push-out of struggling students. Later on, Stan Karp builds on the notion of the impossibility of Adequate Yearly Progress; Karp also details the dire financial impact of NCLB.

George Wood reports on NCLB-caused trends, such as the Houston’s “miracle,” the sham that underlies much of NCLB. From Ohio, Wood describes how those schools that met NCLB standards were wealthy, white and stable, with well-paid teachers and few special-ed students. Describing how NCLB seems to be “narrowing the school experience,” Wood’s demonstration of the potential for joylessness that schools face is truly depressing.

Spotlighting the fundamental mistrust of schools and their local communities that underlies NCLB, Deborah Meier suggests steps for rebuilding confidence and respect. And Alfie Kohn concludes with a fiery essay on the possibility that a push for school privatization motivates NCLB.

Many Children Left Behind offers arguments packed with data that reveal the legislation’s larger dire consequences. Through its pages, school people dedicated to high-standard, meaningful, personalized teaching and learning, people such as my principal friend, can connect to a wider world that is creating NCLB resistance.