A few thoughts on today’s WaPost op-ed arguing that No Child Left Behind is ruining public education for gifted students:
1) The authors assert that the law is having “unintended but disastrous consequences” for gifted kids. Can I just say — a pox on “unintended consequences.” They’re the Lay’s potato chips of argumentation, a cheap, substance-free rhetorical device that newspaper editors are apparently helpless to resist consuming, even though (I hope) they know they should. It’s not that unitended consequences don’t exist, but if you’re going to assert them you should have to offer some evidence that what you’re saying is actually true. Which leads to:
2) Is there any reputable, empirical evidence to support the contention that NCLB is hurting the education of gifted students? If there is, I haven’t seen it, and it’s certainly nowhere in this op-ed. NAEP scores, SATs, some kind of “ceiling” effect on high-end scale scores — anything? One thing I am 100 percent sure of: next spring I’m going to be reading a spate of newspaper articles about how a record number of students managed to–somehow–overcome the depradations of NCLB, ace the SATs, accumulate a freakishly accomplished resume of extracurricular activities, and yet get turned down by Harvard.
3) NCLB was enacted over five years ago, and it way too late to be criticizing the law without offering anything in the way of solutions. Yet right at the point this op-ed should be telling the reader what Congress should do, if not try to help all students attain at least minimal proficiency in reading and math, it veers off into a wholly unrelated discussion of…vouchers. Huh? I imagine this is because actually proposing solutions would lay bare the fact that NCLB’s authors made a conscious choice to focus attention on the lowest-performing, most disadvantaged students, because, unlike the gifted, and more or or less by definition–they need those resources the most. That’s not to say some kind of growth-model approach isn’t warrented, it is. But life is about hard choices, and op-eds like this simply don’t have the courage to admit that they’re advocating for a return to the days where the least got the least and the most got the most. Which leads to:
4) Between this, complaints about affirmative action, and the so-called “boys crisis,” we’ve reached the point where people are actually arguing, with a straight face, that the real crisis in American education is the shameful neglect–the injustice–of how we educate smart white men. There’s only one more place to go here–somewhere in the depths of the Heritage foundation lurks a 22-year old policy analyst who is undoubtedly preparing to launch a career in wingnuttery on just this issue–and it’s this: how NCLB discriminates against rich people. Surely it’s the smart white wealthy man who’s the true victim here, kept down by a law and a nation that refuses to recongnize his special needs.