Open to the Public: The Public Speaks Out on No Child Left Behind

Liam Julian

Public Education Network
May 2006

From September 2005 to January 2006, the Public Education Network (PEN) held a series of hearings around the nation where students, community members, and parents were invited to testify about their experiences with No Child Left Behind. The events were attended by some 1,500 people, 300 of whom "testified." This report summarizes the testimony, and from those 300 folks draws conclusions about the public's perception of NCLB. (Perhaps not surprisingly, those conclusions mirror PEN's longstanding views about the law.) Here they are in thumbnail: Although the public supports accountability, it rejects single, standardized tests as adequate evaluators of school effectiveness; the public rejects labeling schools as "in need of improvement" because the label is too punitive and may erode public support for those schools; the public thinks high-stakes testing causes students and teachers too much anxiety; the public is not receiving information about NCLB (such as data about school performance, or about opportunities for school choice or supplemental services) in a timely manner; and the public sees a disconnect between teachers deemed "highly qualified" and those who are able to engage students in the classroom. The report touches on other criticisms, and it offers some suggestions (broaden the definition of "highly qualified" teachers, for example), but informed readers won't find much new here. While PEN's hearings were no doubt useful for gauging the temperament in individual cities and districts, 300 testimonials can hardly be translated into nationally-representative "public opinion." Plus, these complaints and recommendations are a bit generic-there's no gripe or solution in this report which hasn't been put forth before. It's nice to know what 300 people across the country think about NCLB, but this report gives no compelling data, nor does its sample size confer legitimacy. You can read the report here.

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