Leadership in Education: No Child Left Behind

AmericanRewriting the No Child Left Behind Law is in process. If you have children in school this may be important to you. If you are childless, it may seem unimportant.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Whether or not you have children, if you plan to be living in 20 years, how our children are educated today will influence your quality of life. In 20 years, the children just starting school will be having their mid-20s crisis (did anyone have one of these prior to the baby boomers?). The children now finishing school will be leading major companies and entering the upper rungs of politics . . .

These kids are our future, literally.

So how are they doing?

Oh, #@$*@!

From what I can tell, they have a lot of self esteem. They feel good about themselves. Really, really, good about themselves. But, they don’t have any proof of earning that self esteem, and deep down, each child knows it.

Let’s take a quick look at our rankings in international tests. This chart demonstrates performance in problem solving – Math.


The reality check is that United States students performed well on some tests, not as well as might be expected on others, and very poorly on some.

There is a “counter myth” that the United States generally performed at or close to the international average in math and science. This is true, as far as it goes. However, some of the nations tested were decidedly disadvantaged compared to the United States, and the international average included the scores of those less favored nations. To say that the United States is near the international average largely means that our students fared better than students in some severely deprived countries. Many other advanced nations scored far above the average.

But, surely there are ways to counter this information, right? The standard excuses that we educate all of our population so a comparison of our students is broader than in other countries . . . not true. How about the idea that our best students outperform the best students in other countries – again, that our average is pulled down by the lower end of students . . . again, not true. US best students ranked second to last of the 20 advanced nations. How about . . . our students are more attuned to creative thinking whereas these other countries are drilling facts and using rote memorization?

It is true the other countries lean on heavy drills, memorization and other (apparently) seeming barbaric learning mechanisms. Guess what?

American students were dead last of the advanced countries and well below average for all countries in ability to apply knowledge through creative problem solving.

Perhaps rote memorization serves a purpose….

As a nation, we’ve been punked. Our children are learning to feel good, but they aren’t learning to read, write, add/subtract/multiply and divide. How can you feel good as an Zombieadult if you can’t cover the basic functions and then apply them. We are creating a nation of zombies.

When you cannot contribute to the vibrant, productive fabric of this country you are more likely to have problems with substance abuse and depression. Those are expensive problems for society….

Are there any bright spots?

Our 4th graders have often done well, especially in reading. Our 8th graders have done exceptionally well in civics.

Well that’s something. At least until you read the conclusion. Emphasis is mine.

However, American students have not generally performed as well as our national advantages would lead one to expect. Between 1995 and 2003 our students made good strides in factual learning in science and some improvement in factual learning in mathematics. They deteriorated in application of knowledge in all subjects between 2000 and 2003. They did very poorly in tests of original, creative, logical thinking. Most of the excuses for low American performance fail the reality test. Quibbles about sample participation and the age of students tested are specious and cannot explain away the obvious defects in US students’ performance.

The harder a student works, the more he will struggle with concepts, the more he will own those concepts once he gets them. Upon mastery of a concept, the child will develop a security that he knows something. That’s the beauty of it, he will know something. This leads to self esteem.

Self-esteem can not be taught, it must be earned.

The Secretary of Education is coming to your state by the end of December, look here for his schedule – then go give your input!

Image courtesy of simpleinsomnia

12 thoughts on “Leadership in Education: No Child Left Behind”

  1. Listen to the Oct 6, 2009 episode of Think on NPR for a refreshing view.

    Back to the Future of Education

    E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
    Is our method of teaching right for all of our country’s children? We’ll explore current theories and possible solutions this hour with E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and author of the new book “The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools” (Yale, 2009).

  2. The chart really put things in perspective of me. Just proves that you should check your sources and other variables of data when you hear information proclaimed to be true.

    As for the application of things, it’s hard to know where education and parental roles should overlap and where they shouldn’t. Application of things can be touched in school, but a large part of this is also but of parenting.


  3. Not sure where my post went unless you are hand approving them. I’ll see if this one goes through.


  4. Rob – good answer. I’m happy I don’t have kids in school anymore. That isn’t much to think about if I end up with grandkids some day tho.


  5. There is so much wrong with our educational system that rewriting the “No Child Left Behind”law can possibly fix. The best thing the government can do to help education is to quit messing with it. We need to find an educational system with less influence from the government on teh Federal and State levels and more local control. More importantly, we need to end the unionization of teacher’s and end the social engineering and tehe socialist agenda that passes for education.

    As long as the current educational structure is in place there is nothing you can do to make the public system better. If you have children you need to get them into a private school and out of the public system.

    Steve Chambers, Sale Trainer Speaker

  6. Personally I would find it difficult to learn in such a combative environment. I’ve never been to the US but I hear that weapons are common in schools and outside them.

    Back to the article…..well written and thought prevoking. Self esteem is accomplished by overcoming obstacles. Babies do that all the time. Not so much teenagers by my observation.

    Keri Eagan

  7. Great post.
    The UK is conspicuous by its absence!

    I’m not sure that self-esteem can’t be taught and has to be earned – it depends on you definition of self-esteem.
    How much self-esteem does a baby have? A pre-nursery child? Children often seem to think the world revolves around them!
    And then parents and teachers (and exams) and peers and girl/boyfriends all (unknowingly) chip away at the self-esteem…
    But In my experience, self esteem can be restored via a deft bit of coaching.

  8. Kate,

    Wonderfully informative post! This is another one I’ve got to show to my wife. She is very active in our kid’s education.

  9. This is interesting. Being from the US, I always assume that our students are the smartest in the world. I guess I better rethink that.

    Standardized tests are unfair. Though we have excellent schools in this town, our students were not performing so well on MCAS tests. Now I think that teachers are teaching more to the test because our scores are increasing. I’m sure the students aren’t just getting smarter, I believe it is the teaching style. If they change the style and everything about the test I bet we’d go right back to doing poorly.

    Lisa McLellan

  10. No surprise. The longer the kids are in the grips of the teachers, the worse they do.

    Our current system is more like “No Teacher Left Behind” and it is a farce. No matter how incompetent they can’t be fired.

    As I said before, they should be required to pass the standardized tests that the students have to take before they are able to set foot in the classroom. Let smart people teach our kids– that’s a unique concept…

    And don’t get me started on the bogus curriculum of whole-language and integrated studies. Teach the basics and teach it well.

    Seize the Day,

    • Yeah Rob, that’s the point of the data – the countries who rely on seriously teaching the basics do much better not only at the basics (that makes sense), but also at APPLYING the basics an creative thinking about problem solving.

      The curriculum monkeys for integrated studies miss this point. The argument that our students may lag on the basics but do really well at real world application just doesn’t hold up. US children performed dead last of the 20 advanced nations and well below average for all nations.

      Which is akin to saying US students are like the Dallas Cowboys. Strong in the past, think a lot of themselves, but can’t get it done.

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