...NCLB's heart is an accountability-based reform, but this type of reform has a weak track record. A review of accountability reforms published in the American Journal of Education last year concluded that NCLB's chances were "neutral at best." Why is such a monumental educational initiative centered on one of the least promising policies?
An effective national educational reform program should begin by expanding pre-kindergarten programs like the successful one now operating in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This program has produced significant gains for Hispanic and black children. There is a large body of research showing the benefits of quality early childhood education.
The commissioners agree and state that "half of the white-African American achievement gap in 12th grade can be explained by the gaps in achievement in 1st grade." NCLB, however, does little in the area of early childhood education. Because the commissioners are trapped within the NCLB framework, they too marginalize the issue of early childhood education and relegate their discussion of it to one-third of the last chapter of their report.
Given that perhaps 50 percent of racial achievement gaps are due to differences in early childhood education, how can an educational reform dedicated to eliminating racial achievement gaps not make early childhood education one of its major components? A real assessment of NCLB would point out that the Act has ignored highly effective reforms like early childhood education, reducing class sizes, small schools and school integration in favor of something that is "neutral at best."
While there are some good recommendations in Beyond NCLB, the authors are mainly trapped by the flawed assumptions and biases of the Act. If we really want to leave no child behind, we have to get beyond NCLB and the Commission's report also.