What Will It Take to Fix Public Education?

The last two presidents have introduced major education reform efforts. Are we making progress toward a better and more equitable education system? Yale Insights talked with former secretary of education John King, now president and CEO of the Education Trust, about the challenges that remain, and the impact of the Trump Administration.

On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush traveled to Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, to sign the No Child Left Behind Act, a bipartisan bill (Senator Edward Kennedy was a co-sponsor) requiring, among other things, that states test students for proficiency in reading and math and track their progress. Schools that failed to reach their goals would be overhauled or even shut down.

“No longer is it acceptable to hide poor performance,” Bush said. “[W]hen we find poor performance, a school will be given time and incentives and resources to correct their problems.… If, however, schools don’t perform, if, however, given the new resources, focused resources, they are unable to solve the problem of not educating their children, there must be real consequences.”

Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind left out a very important term: dyslexia.

Without dyslexia at its base, No Child Left Behind, was doomed to fail. Without having teachers really understand the “why” behind some kids having a challenge learning how to read, there were significant problems with the whole roll out of the program. Instead of schools actually addressing issues, they played the game of statistics.

Instead of helping all low students, schools quickly learned how to manipulate data.

“Coaches” were hired at a very high rate to plow through the data, and find the 3-4 kids in every class who could bump the school into being a proficient school.

Who cared about the 8-10 kids in each class who scored lower than the targeted 3-4 students, right? Schools needed to “pass” the sanctions of No Child Left Behind, and this was the quickest, easiest route.

Yes, hindsight is 20/20. Now in 2021, all of the deep, enriching learning teachers could have accomplished was lost in a game of statistics.

Things must change.

Heidi Nord