After 10 years of missed opportunity under No Child Left Behind, we must learn from our experience to accelerate academic progress and improve the quality of learning in American schools.
Lesson #1: Don’t overreach. The federal role should not be to micromanage educational decisions, but to enable strategic investments that will increase opportunity. The quest for 100 percent proficiency has focused attention on boosting scores, but it has also narrowed the curriculum, encouraged exclusions of struggling students, and undermined confidence in federal initiatives.
Meanwhile, federal efforts to prescribe top-down reforms have often wreaked havoc in the field. From the dismantling of many successful local reading programs under Reading First to more recent requirements for turnaround models that research has found ineffective, federal overreach can leave students further behind.
Lesson #2: Focus on genuine equity. NCLB helped us understand the severity of achievement gaps between different student groups, but it has not provided sufficient resources in strategic ways to address the sources of those gaps. The small federal allocation makes hardly a dent in our huge state and local funding disparities, and is not being spent in high-leverage ways. National education policy must expect states to be transparent about the availability of resources to students and to pursue funding equity.
Lesson #3: Invest strategically. The Title I formula should better target low-income states and communities and support investments known to improve student achievement: quality preschool, high-quality preparation and professional development for teachers and school leaders, wraparound services and community schools, and summer learning opportunities.
Finally, the federal government should learn from high-achieving nations and encourage the use of more thoughtful performance-based assessments. Used to inform curriculum improvements and teacher development, rather than to punish students, teachers, or schools, such assessments would support higher-quality instruction and more engaged learning.
Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun professor of education at Stanford University. She is the author of The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future (Teachers College Press, 2010).
Note: Linda Darling-Hammond is the Vice Chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. For an important video on corruption within this state agency see the video below.
For more on her work with the CTC see
For additional views on the NCLB see these essays.