The problem with saying “NCLB didn’t work.”

As we’re now more than a decade past the passage of NCLB, we’re starting to hear comments like, “NCLB didn’t work.” People point to a variety of statistics and argue that – if NCLB did work – those statistics would reflect a vastly different educational landscape now when compared with pre-NCLB times.

Ironically, this proposal often comes from folks fiercely against using state tests to measure teacher accountability, claiming (accurately) that teacher performance is only one variable that contributes to student achievement. Similarly, NCLB was only one variable that may have been impacting student achievement over the past 10 years. Saying “NCLB didn’t work” because achievement data aren’t higher encounters the same problem as saying “Ms. Smith is a bad teacher” because achievement data aren’t higher – neither NCLB nor Ms. Smith were acting alone.

I’ve seen the same argument applied to Reading First, with whole studies concluding that Reading First – a result of the National Reading Panel, also initiated about a decade ago – was a failure because achievement data aren’t higher in reading than they could be. Again, Reading First isn’t the only variable contributing to student achievement in reading – what about Ms. Smith? Doesn’t she contribute also?

So, let’s be fair when we look at data and make causal statements about the relative contributions of both people and programs.

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