Charter Schools and No Child Left Behind

Diane Ravitch is a former public servant in the US Department of
Education whom I greatly respect.  Initially when in office she was
a supporter of No Child Left Behind and of School Choice.  But later
when she saw the results of these policies in practice she changed
her position and became a severe critic of these efforts.  I agree with
her assessment that Charter Schools are a colossal mistake.  See:

On the issue of No Child Left Behind you, a Michigan voter, may find
the text below of my 2010 exchange with her of interest.  If elected
as your next US Senator, I would support a bill completely repealing
No Child Left Behind and corresponding legislative modifications of
the act.

Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2010 15:10:33 -0500
Subject: Re: Your Recent WSJ Article
From: Diane Ravitch
To: John WilhelmThank you! You are so right.Diane RavitchOn Wed, Mar 10, 2010 at 3:03 PM, John Wilhelm  wrote:

Dr. Ravitch, Your recent article in the opinion section of the Wall
Street Journal impressed me a great deal.  In terms of training, I
concentrated on the Soviet and East European economies.  Given that
perspective, from the outset I regarded the No Child Left Behind act
to simply be idiocy which a number of my siblings and other relatives
in education have amply confirmed.

Two and a half years ago as a result of a letter published in the New
York Times, I had some exchanges with Professor Stephens of Ohio State
University.  I have two files from that exchange and another item
which I picked up along the way which I would like to share with you
and attach below.  Regards.

John Howard Wilhelm, Ph.D.,

The New York Times
(Letters to the Editor)
Monday October 8, 2007

To the Editor:

The No Child Left Behind Act is well intended but misguided because it
ignores inherent individual differences of students.  Just as taller
students can more readily reach higher objects than shorter ones, it
is not just a matter of more and better instruction, but one of
different aptitudes and different instructional needs.

It falsely considers schooling as similar to an assembly line, where
identical ingredients are molded into the same products.  But in fact,
as a group of students progress through the grades, the greater the
range of differences among the students will become, if the
instruction has been effective and addresses the needs of the

This is the opposite result of what the No Child Left Behind Act

Thomas M. Stephens
Columbus, Ohio. Oct. 4, 2007


(Interview with Andrew Dilnot, FT Nov. 17/18, 2007)

BEHIND APPEARED.  The article was written by Tim Harford.

I asked him how government targets could be set more sensibly.  He
argues for simplicity, surprise audits, sanctions for those who “game”
the system, and a willingness to change frequently what is measured.
All these recommendations are aimed at persuading the managers of
schools and hospitals that the best way to win plaudits is to do a
good job.

From: Thomas Stephens
Subject: Re: No Child Feft Behind–Financial Times Quote
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2008 16:15:15 -0500
To: John Wilhelm

Hi Mr. Wilhelm,

Here’s the column I wrote for the Columbus Dispatch regarding NCLB.
It took awhile but I finally got it done. Thanks for your
encouragement. Tom

No Child must focus on more than tests

Saturday,  February 9, 2008 2:57 AM

Congress plans to leave the No Child Left Behind law as it is, at
least until after the national elections. This is unfortunate because
it should be amended, if not gutted.

The law falsely assumes that schooling is like an assembly line, where
identical ingredients can be molded into similar products. But
children come to school with wide differences in aptitudes, interests
and preparation for learning.

Can No Child be fixed? Like a bridge with structural flaws, it might
be easier to start over. First, call it something else. Give it a
title that doesn’t promise what can’t be done; no public school can
guarantee all students will be successful. But schools can provide
clean and safe environments, competent and caring teachers and
interesting and developmentally appropriate curriculum.  No Child is
well-intentioned; it mandates accountability, which is often lacking
in public education. But it overvalues test scores.  Just as taller
students can reach higher objects better than shorter ones, regardless
of how hard they try, more and better instruction alone cannot
guarantee equal learning for every student, even though the extensive
testing required by No Child aims for that.  Extra time spent teaching
specific test material can cause gains.  However, by ignoring other
factors, gains from repetitive teaching are often ephemeral and use
instructional time needed for better learning experiences.

Many students, such as those from poor and dysfunctional families,
often lack life experiences, prerequisite skills and concepts, and
aptitudes for schooling. They often need instruction in language,
study and problem-solving by teachers who know how to help them.
Students who start out at a disadvantage become frustrated, often
develop negative attitudes and misbehaviors, leading to failure.  Yet
No Child unwittingly creates incentives to push out of the system such
students to boost a school’s test scores. The law should de- emphasize
testing, encourage developmental learning, and either reduce its
mandates or fully fund them.

Scores alone mask important information about how specific students
learn, what they have yet to learn and how to personalize
instruction. Less testing and more analyses are needed. In this way,
teachers can start where their students are, not where No Child
demands they must be. The law ties the test results to grade levels,
instead of to individual students. No law can make children alike.
Yes, gains have been made in Ohio; some schools are no longer in
“academic emergency” and have moved to “academic watch” — a
distinction without an important difference. These ratings are
arbitrary, with no sound research base. They are political categories
rather than educational ratings. If it were the latter, the
instructional needs of students would be foremost, not the bottom-
line test results.

Under the present system, the bar will continue to rise and “success”
will become harder. Fewer and fewer schools will be “excellent,”
except, perhaps, for affluent schools with homogeneous populations.
Consider the long-term corrosive effects of labeling entire schools,
students and teachers as failures. This is group punishment, an unfair
scarlet letter.

Teaching is like a three-legged stool. One leg represents what the
educators must do, the other what parents and students must do and the
third what the community must do. If all legs are stable, the stool
will work well.

No Child should also address all three legs, not just the one. This
can be done in many ways, such as providing support services for at-
risk families as well as students, providing information and
instruction for all expectant parents, funding early child education,
broadening the curriculum to include community learning, improving the
quality of teacher preparation and fully funding all mandates.  Yes,
hold schools and teachers accountable — but only for what they can

No Child Left Behind is leaving many behind. It must be fixed.

Thomas M. Stephens is professor emeritus, College of Education and
Human Ecology, Ohio State University, and executive director
emeritus, School Study Council of Ohio.