NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 26, 2010

President Obama's proposed overhaul of No Child Left Behind is long overdue.  Over the past decade the regime's rigid metrics and penalties transformed schools into testing factories.  Unfortunately, the White House proposal -- which replaces NCLB's legal sticks with new legal carrots -- won't come close to fixing America's schools, says Philip K. Howard, chair of legal reform organization Common Good.

According to Howard:

  • A 2004 study of the rules in one New York City school by Common Good found that the daily decisions made by teachers and principals are dictated by thousands of regulations.
  • Over 60 steps and legal considerations are required to suspend a disruptive student.
  • Manuals of 200 pages describe the "rights" of students.

Looking at daily choices as a matter of legal rights polarizes people, says Howard: 

  • One effect is paralysis -- educators will do almost anything to avoid yet another legal argument.
  • Another effect is bureaucracy growing at warp speed, as educators write rules to validate the legality of ordinary choices.
  • In the end, fairness disappears when rules replace common sense, as in the recent suspension in Michigan of a 6-year-old for pointing his finger like a gun, mandated under "zero tolerance" rules.

Charter schools, on the other hand, liberate teachers and principals from rules and regulations, and hold them accountable for results.  Howard believes this guiding principle -- replacing legal dictates with individual responsibility -- is the key to turning around America's public schools.

Source: Philip K. Howard, "Why Freer Schools Are Better Schools," Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2010.

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