There’s an old saying: “Beware of unintended consequences.” It’s good advice for long-term planning. It’s also an important principle for identifying facile policy arguments, like those in this WaPost op-ed, in which a local second-grade teacher claims that the No Child Left Behind Act, written to help low-income and minority students, actually harms them.
This kind of sudden logical inversion has a long and ignoble history, outlined well in Albert O. Hirschman’s The Rhetoric of Reaction, which anyone who makes or cares about policy debates should read. For centuries people have been saying things like “welfare makes people poor” or “suffrage will hurt women,” and for just as long people have nodded their heads with enthusiasm. The evidenciary bar should be incredibly high for saying things like this, but somehow it never is. I think people assume that nobody would say something so obviously silly with a straight face if it weren’t somehow true. Editors also have a fatal weakness for this stuff, which is a lot punchier than carefuly parsing the actual truth.
The op-ed is garden-variety: Rich white kids get things from their home environment that poor and minority kids don’t; thus, achievement gaps are unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean that poor and minority kids bring nothing to school, they “speak foreign langauges, make music, tell vivid stories, and have other skills not typical of their peers.”
Minority students “make music” and “tell vivid stories”? Seriously? I thought people stopped saying things like that in public a while ago.
Because poor and minority students come to school behind, schools have created a “caste system” where disadvantaged children are relegated to classes that are low-level, test-prep, drill-and-kill, and presumably many other bad hyphenated things.
Now, there was a time, not so long ago, when there was no No Child Left Behind Act, when there were no consequences for schools where low-income and minority students did poorly. Presumably, the caste system in question didn’t exist back in that halcyon era of authentic education. You know, those palmy days when schools gave a rich, high-quality education to all their students, black or white, rich or poor.
If you believe that, I’ve got an op-ed to sell you.