NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 4, 2009

Eight years after Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, American 9- and 13-year-olds are doing measurably better on standardized tests.  Good news?  Not necessarily.  The New York Times report on NCLB carries the headline " 'No Child' Law Is Not Closing a Racial Gap."

Fair enough.  If the law is helping white kids but doing nothing for blacks, that doesn't seem right.  Only that isn't what's happening, as you learn from reading the actual report, says the Wall Street Journal:

  • The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics, according to results of a federal test considered to be the nation's best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency.
  • Between 2004 and last year, scores for young minority students increased, but so did those of white students, leaving the achievement gap stubbornly wide, despite President George W. Bush's frequent assertions that the No Child law was having a dramatic effect.

So minority kids are doing better than before, but because white kids are also doing better, and therefore the "gap" remains, the Times suggests the law is a failure.  By this measure, it would have been better to pass a law that only benefits minorities than one that benefits everyone, says the Journal.

To be fair, closing the racial gap was one of the stated goals of No Child Left Behind. But what a strange, uncritical attitude the Times has toward the federal government when it reports with a straight face that the law is a failure because it seems to have helped children of all races, rather than observing that this calls into question whether the goal made any sense in the first place, says the Journal.

Source: James Taranto, "Invidious Statistics," Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2009; based upon: Sam Dillon, "'No Child' Law Is Not Closing a Racial Gap," New York Times, April 28, 2009.

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