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The ever valuable Politico.com published an interview with Sandy Kress, the Texas lawyer who is widely recognized as the architect of No Child Left Behind. NCLB is viewed by many as a failed law that set unrealistic goals (100% proficiency by 2014), administered harsh punishments to schools that could not reach those goals, launched a testing frenzy, benefited consultants and testing corporations, and promoted charters and privatization as a “remedy,” based on no evidence.
In the interview, Kress strongly defends NCLB and takes issue with its critics.
NCLB ARCHITECT FIRES BACK:
Politicians and pundits from left, right and center have been beating up on No Child Left Behind. And Texas lawyer Sandy Kress has had enough. Kress, a longtime adviser to George W. Bush, was an original architect of NCLB. He stands by the law – and says it’s being blamed for a heap of problems that it did not in any way cause. “It’s sad to see all the brickbats,” Kress told Morning Education. “And worrisome.” Kress argues that the federal testing and accountability provisions were designed to prod district bureaucracies into demanding more qualified teachers, better instruction and top-notch materials. Instead, he said, administrators took the easy way out and bought loads of practice tests and test prep products in a frenzied rush to boost student scores. Kress used to lobby for Pearson, which of course sells many of those tests and test prep products. He doesn’t work for the company now, though, and says he can freely share his view: Yes, there are too many tests (and too many bad tests) – but no, it’s not the fault of NCLB. “Why [states and districts] chose to have tests on top of tests on top of tests” instead of improving instruction “is beyond me,” he said. The testing mania not only spurred the anti-NCLB backlash, but it flat out didn’t work, Kress said: “If you spend all your time weighing your pig, when it comes time to sell the pig, you’re going to find out you haven’t spent enough time feeding the pig.”
– Kress, a longtime Democrat turned political independent, said he’s disappointed in conservatives who want to delete huge chunks of NCLB. Sooner or later, he said, true conservatives will second-guess the impulse to significantly shrink the federal role in education. “Do we want to continue to have the federal government borrow money … and send it to local and state bureaucracies … without any guarantee of efficiency and effectiveness in how it’s spent?” he asked.
– Kress said he also sees huge irony in the marriage between teachers unions and the tea party in opposing federal testing and accountability mandates. The left fought so hard to defeat conservatives in the midterms, he said, and is now “getting in bed” with them to further policy goals. He also predicted that gutting NCLB would end up hurting public education advocates in the long run. Voters, he said, will eventually rebel against sending tax dollars to teachers and schools that aren’t held to account for students’ performance. “If that kind of position is allowed to prevail in the end, it will be extremely negative for public education,” he said.
– Morning Education had one more question for Kress: Did the NCLB authors truly believe that all children would be proficient in reading and math by 2014, as the law required? “For the country in 2001 to have had that aspiration I think was noble and right,” he responded. No one ever expected all schools to actually hit 100 percent proficiency, he said, but the authors thought they would get close just in time for Congress to tinker with the law when it was up for reauthorization in 2007. Kress expected that the scheduled reauthorization would raise standards and then reset the clock for achieving universal proficiency. “It wasn’t that we thought we would be rescued by Congress in 2007,” Kress said, “though… we kind of did.”