April 19, 2005 Extra Credit
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April 19, 2005

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April 18
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NCLB: "The Most Important Civil Rights Battle of the Last Half-Century"

The following are excerpts from yesterday’s op-ed by The New York Times editorial writer Brent Staples.

"The civil rights establishment was once a fiercely independent force that bedeviled politicians on both sides of the aisle and evaluated policies based on whether those policies harmed or helped the poor. This tradition of independence has disappeared…

"This posture has been painfully evident in the debate surrounding the No Child Left Behind education law, a signature Bush administration reform that also happens to be the best hope for guaranteeing black and Latino children a chance at equal education. The law is not perfect and will need adjustments. But its core requirement that the states educate minority children to the same standards as white children breaks with a century-old tradition of educational unfairness. The new law could potentially surpass Brown v. Board of Education in terms of widening access to high-quality public education."

"Like many other Americans, people in the civil rights establishment typically argue that it is unfair to enforce No Child Left Behind - and to require higher achievement from minority children and better performance from their teachers - until the government provides enough money to do the job… What if the ideal dollar amount takes 25 years to materialize and what if it never arrives at all? In this context, waiting for ‘enough money’ becomes an argument for maintaining the disastrous status quo and sacrificing yet another generation of minority students.

"Next up is the antitesting argument. Civil rights activists commonly embrace the popular but erroneous view that the reading and math tests associated with No Child Left Behind are culturally biased or unfair to minority children…

"The simple achievement tests required under the law are essential to the objective of closing the education gap. By arguing that these tests are inappropriate and culturally biased, these members of the liberal black elite have unwittingly embraced the worst stereotypes about the poor. They have also given cover to politicians who believe that the achievement gap can never be closed and that minority children can never reach the levels attained by their white, affluent counterparts.

"The most complex and deep-seated objections to No Child Left Behind are clearly emanating from teachers and school administrators, who have come under increasing pressure to improve student performance… Members of the teacher corps have historically played powerful roles in civic organizations, including churches, while forming the backbone of civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P."

"This is a difficult moment for the civil rights movement, which is understandably fearful of taking positions that would discomfit the teachers among its supporters. But standing silently on the sidelines of the debate about teacher preparedness and No Child Left Behind is hardly the answer. Unless the civil rights establishment adopts a stronger and more public position, it will inevitably be viewed as having missed the most important civil rights battle of the last half-century."


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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 08/14/2013