I was talking to a co-worker yesterday whose wife is a teacher and he was complaining about NCLB. From what I have seen on Facebook it's almost universal among teachers that NCLB results in teachers spending too much time doing things that aren't teaching kids. I am immediately sympathetic to the idea that it mismatches priorities. And then I think about it and I realize that although I am producing a weekly TV show I spend far less time working on content and far more time keeping track of budgets and reporting progress. It's sort of like the question of whether a tree falling in an uninhabited woods makes a sound. It doesn't matter if no one hears it. In the corporate world the decision makers want to see the process unfold through a series of guidelines and measurements. This is especially true when the decision makers have no intimate knowledge with the actual work. Taxpayers are increasingly demanding the same kind of accountability probably due to their own experiences of living in this kind of world.
The resulting anger over NCLB is really a result of differing expectations that can't be resolved with one another.
1. Most agree that children need an education that will prepare them for the real world.
2. Politicians promise with enough funding government run schools can reach 100% competency among the youth.
3. Tax payers expect to know whether the money and teaching methods are producing measurable results.
For most of our history people have expected the first and believed the argument of the second. As literacy rates have fallen and our schools have become dangerous and the rest of the western world beats us in competency, taxpayers have invoked #3.
Rather than address the cause of our education problems, school systems have spent the extra funding to game the results by teaching the methods of the measurement rather than the content. It seems perverted if you think that we are all in agreement of the importance of #1. But what this process has taught us is that school administrators are not focused on #1. They are focused on competing with other bureaucrats over their measurement numbers. They are typical careerists like so many others. It's a good reminder when someone tells you that the government should run healthcare because it's too important of a thing for someone to profit from. Because of NCLB, the school systems have showed that you don't need the profit motive for organization leaders to put self-interested over children.
The best way to improve education is to make everyone focus on #1. What incentive could you give government bureaucrats to make that their focus? The only one I can think of is the portability of education dollars. When parents can put their kids into schools that share their goals, schools management will align themselves with the expectations of their customers. Until they are forced to do that they will put their energy instead toward competing with other bureaucrats.