The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Do educators really want to dismantle NCLB?

Based on reports in the trade and general press, one would think that teachers, administrators, and parents are uniformly opposed to the No Child Left Behind act. It seems like every day brings a new story about how NCLB is going to singlehandedly destroy public education as we know it, and how the only way to free the victims of this unfair legislation is to repeal the law.

Unfortunately for those who oppose the law, this seems to be a case of the vocal minority getting the ink, while reality looks quite different once the histrionics are set aside.

If you want to learn about the opinions of people inside and outside the education industry regarding NCLB, a good place to start would be ETS’ latest education survey, titled “Standards, Accountability and Flexibility: Americans Speak on No Child Left Behind Reauthorization.” A review of the key findings makes it clear that the public, and parents of K-12 students in particular, support the principles behind the law as well as the law itself, and that while teachers and administrators have an unfavorable opinion of the law (77% and 63% respectively), only a portion of those professionals (25% of teachers and 22% of administrators) believe the law should not be reauthorized. (Most would rather see the law remain with changes made to improve it .)

But what’s more interesting to me is action: if you truly feel an injustice is being committed, you’re more likely to feel compelled to take action against it. Anyone can answer the phone and offer opinions to a pollster; a better measure of true opposition comes with counting the people who take the initiative to sign a petition, write letters, or donate to a cause.

So how many people are taking action to see NCLB torn down? Not many, it turns out. The big teacher unions are firmly in the “fix it, don’t nix it” camp (see here for NEA and here for AFT). The only organized movement comes in the form of The Educator Roundtable, which is circulating a petition for the repeal of NCLB and collecting money for a national awareness campaign.

Given that they are the sole organized effort for elimination of the law, how is The Educator Roundtable doing? Despite getting a fair amount of press and online coverage, not to mention any grassroots awareness created by its supporters and those sympathetic to the cause, they’re not doing terribly well. The group launched its online petition in November 2006, and according to the group’s website, as of today, it has gathered 30,877 signatures from teachers, administrators, and parents. Furthermore, the Roundtable has collected $15,823.16 against its goal of $100,000 for a national ad campaign.

To put this in perspective, consider that there are more than 5.9 million people employed by public elementary and secondary school systems (see page 13 of this report for the 2003-04 figures); we won’t even include the millions upon millions of parents in our calculations, even though The Educator Roundtable encourages their involvement as well. At any rate, based on the total number of professionals employed by public education, only 0.5% have signed on to the petition. And of those 30,877 petition signers, assuming an average donation of $10 (the amount suggested on their site), only 1,582 people, or 5.1% of those who put their names on the petition, felt strongly enough about repealing the law to part with a few dollars.

In fairness, I’m sure that The Educator Roundtable will continue to gradually grow its numbers, both in terms of petition signers and donors. But the fact is, if repealing the law was of real interest to the education community and others, one would expect to see a much, much greater groundswell of activity over the past nine months around the only organized effort in this field. As it stands, it appears that the movement to repeal NCLB is a paper tiger.

That's not to say that the law is flawless. But clearly the smart money is focusing on moving forward with the legislation as a good starting point, and not on erasing the progress we've made to date.

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