Would You Buy a Used Law from This Woman?
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings made headlines last summer when she declared that the No Child Left Behind Act is "like Ivory Soap. It's 99.9 percent pure." That was just the beginning of her unabashed sales pitch.
Spellings has been touting NCLB as a rip-roaring success in boosting academic achievement. "According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP]," she says, "9-year-olds made greater reading gains in five years than in the previous 28 years combined." In fact, as Stephen Krashen has shown, virtually all of those gains occurred before the 2002-03 school year, when NCLB took effect.
Now Spellings has issued a misleading report about the progress of English language learners. In a letter to the Washington Post, she claims that ELLs' 4th grade reading scores "increased by 20 points from 2000 to 2005, more than three times better than their peers." And she credits NCLB for this accomplishment, which suggests remarkable progress toward overcoming the achievement gap.
If only it were true.
Technically speaking, the reported increase is accurate. But that's because ELLs' performance took a nosedive in 2000. Then their scores rebounded over the next three years – that is, before schools began to implement NCLB. The graph below, from the Education Department's own web site, provides a more instructive picture of what's going on. It's clear that no statistically significant gains have occurred for 4th grade ELLs in reading since 2003. (That's true for 8th graders as well.)
NAEP Scale Scores, 4th Grade Reading, 1998-2005
*Significantly different from 2005
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, Nation's Report Card, 2005
Independent analyses of NAEP scores for all students, conducted by the Harvard Civil Rights Project and Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), have also shown virtually no progress in reading or math since 2003. Nor could they find any evidence that NCLB has reduced the achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups.
But the Saleswoman-in-Chief remains undaunted. She continues to "cherry pick" data designed to bamboozle Congress and the public into believing that this law is working for kids. Don't buy it.