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The Good Intentions and Troubled Legacies of No Excuses Schooling

This morning, Vox is promoting a new feature article by Elizabeth Green on the educational philosophy undergirding No Excuses schools.  I’ve written about Green’s work before — mainly her 2010 New York Times Magazine article and her subsequent book by the same title — in both journal articles and in a book of my own, Education Reform and the Concept of Good Teaching.  In fact, I credit Elizabeth Green’s 2010 reportage on Doug Lemov’s pioneering use of data to improve teaching and the entrepreneurial spirit he marshaled in creating the Uncommon Schools network — reportage that I think, even in retrospect, is fair to characterize as breathless — with sharpening the focus of my doctoral studies.  In that earliest NYT article, especially, I found an unsettling mixture of noble intentions, daring innovations, and what struck me as some deeply dubious assumptions about the skillful practices of human beings. Essentially, I saw in Green’s work itself, and in the many people she profiled, a potent combination of vast intelligence, moral zeal, and a kind of confidence in those two characteristics that, historically speaking, can do as much harm as good.

But that NYT article came out fully six years ago, now.  She’s certainly no longer so unreservedly optimistic about the reforms she championed then.  It’s not exactly a jaundiced eye that she turns upon the no-excuses disciplinary philosophy heralded by some reform-oriented schools, but she doesn’t sound quite as eager to buy in as she was back then.

Given the incident that seems to have inspired her most recent article, though, one wouldn’t expect unabashed cheerleading.  And the article isn’t exactly a straightforward defense of no-excuses disciplinary practices, either.  But it’s also not as critical as it ought to be in many places, and if Green is going to conclude, as she does, both that “the no-excuses approach to teaching needs radical overhaul” and that “the same ingredient that propelled changes so far — rigorous honesty about what isn’t working” can bring about that necessary change, then doing some difficult reflection about how the “ingredients that propelled changes so far” have ended up giving us a system that now needs radical overhaul will be necessary.  I don’t think that reflection is in this article.

Part of the issue is that Green structures the article in the actual form of an argumentative essay: three arguments against no-excuses schooling, followed by three arguments for it, the latter obviously intended to respond to the former.

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So when she claims in the conclusion that the whole idea needs an “overhaul,” it feels like something more than balance or objectivity; it feels almost like benevolence, like charity, as though despite the fact that she’s addressed the opposing arguments, she will grant that minor adjustments could improve things.  And so the reader is more inclined to trust the fine print, as it were: the suggestion that the ingredients that led to this problematic system can somehow also fix it, and that the very people empowered to create and administer that system should be entrusted with its reform.  If this conclusion came from the mouth of traditional public school officials, reform advocates would raise — and have raised — holy hell about it.  It would be held up as an example of powerful interests defending a broken status quo.

A bigger issue with Green’s analysis opens up when she wades into the exceptionally complicated territory of education and/as anti-racism.  That is, the territory itself is exceptionally complicated. Education and black social mobility have been inextricably intertwined since colonizers brought the first slaves from West Africa: it’s reflected in 19th century laws against teaching slaves to read and write.  It’s reflected in the seminal importance of Brown v. Board of Education to understandings of African Americans’ equal  citizenship. A minimally sufficient education has been imagined across the board as the necessary condition for autonomous personal flourishing in American society.  The denial of such an education has been used in this country as an explicit tool of disempowerment, and because it can be used in such a way, any such racially systematic denial has been declared, by the highest court in the land, unconstitutional, anathema to the founding principles of our democracy.

At the same time, though, Green points out a “concern” that seems to run counter to the above view of education as inherently anti-racist: “the so-called school-to-prison pipeline,” in her words.  And on this issue, I think, she badly misses the point.

The concern itself runs counter to the above narrative insofar as incarceration disproportionately affects people of color, particularly African Americans; that suspensions from school likewise disproportionately affect people of color, particularly African-Americans; and that there is a straight-line link between suspensions, dropouts, and incarceration. To the extent that no-excuses discipline would logically lead to more suspensions,  it would seem to encourage this school-to-prison pipeline.

Of course, that’s shoddy thinking of the classic “correlation is not causation” form, and Green doesn’t venture too far down that road. But when she says that “I’m not aware of research showing that attending a no-excuses school increases a student’s chance of incarceration,” she seems to offer a defense against this very straw man, which implies that in order for the “school-to-prison pipeline” to be a genuine issue where no-excuses teaching is concerned, there would have to be a more or less literal pipeline, a causal link between no-excuses teaching practices and rates of incarceration.

To her credit, Green spends a great deal of time on the more pressing notion that no-excuses disciplinary practices are racist all by themselves, without needing an outcome measure like incarceration rates to make the point.  It’s to her credit because this represents a potentially fatal objection to an idea that she, in principle, believes in.  And she doesn’t pull punches, which is, again, to her credit.  She discusses the concern that “no-excuses discipline deliberately seeks to control and diminish the bodies and cultures of students of color,” and she quotes researchers and administrators on their own discomfort with policing the dress and grooming habits of their students, which disproportionately seem to affect African Americans.  Which leads to outcomes like this:

But then, at the end of this longer section, she curiously pivots to a third facet of the issue: “Do no-excuses schools protect students from teachers’ bias, or might they leave room for teachers to act out of fear or prejudice?” This pivot strikes me as suspicious because of what it allows Green to do, rhetorically.

First, no disciplinary policy can “protect students from teacher bias.”  The whole idea is that policies by their very nature have to be implemented in order to have any effect at all, and that the people doing the implementation, including teachers, have some ineradicable degree of interpretive agency when it comes to bringing policy to bear. If an individual teacher understands aspects of black cultural life to be inherently disordered or disruptive, no disciplinary policy will prevent that teacher from levying discipline (whether in the form of surveillance, consequences, or what have you) disproportionately.  Green herself points to the vague category of “disrespect” as something that allows teachers potentially harmful discretion in this regard, but the truth of the matter is that no disciplinary policy could ever be sufficiently specific to eliminate discretion altogether.

For further examples of this, one only has to examine the downfall of the policing theory that Green says provided the model for no-excuses tactics.  Article after article took broken-windows strategies to task for disproportionately targeting people of color, firmly establishing that even when it comes to law enforcement procedures, it’s impossible to preclude harmful forms of discretion.

It’s curious that Green brings up this third argument, then, mainly because it amounts to asking whether this no-excuses disciplinary policy can accomplish the impossible.  Why would she want to do that? Why would she hold it up against an unrealizable standard?

The answer appears in her kill-shot:

“Again, nobody reasonable could accuse no-excuses schools of intentional racism. But just because the schools aim to target systemic racism doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes succumb to it or even, without meaning to, advance it.”

Intentional racism, she implies, is worse than, and separable from, systemic racism. No-excuses teaching policy “targets systemic racism,” and might accidentally, as it were, “advance it,” but it’s certainly not intentional racism, which, again, is worse.

This is a complete dodge.  Ending the section with that paragraph seems to acknowledge the reality of structural racism and even to acknowledge that no-excuses practices might “succumb” to it, as though structural racism is a temptation, like carbs.  But it only acknowledges the reality of structural racism as, in the same breath, it also presents it as the lesser of two evils, specifically the less morally blameworthy form of racism.  Coming at the conclusion of a few hundred words that pretty clearly demonstrate the racially disparate disciplinary regime that no-excuses teaching in fact is, this irrelevant distinction Green draws between intentional and systemic racism allows her to mitigate the rhetorical impact of everything she just described.

She knows how powerful this idea that no-excuses might be in itself racist is: I think that’s why she puts this argument against no-excuses teaching second — neither first nor last — which is the rhetorical best practice for minimizing an argument’s impact without actually ignoring it.

And let’s be clear: When she says that “just because the schools aim to target systemic racism doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes succumb to it or even, without meaning to, advance it,” she’s giving these schools a little too much credit. These schools are explicitly targeting the effects of systemic racism — that is, the persistent under-education of people of color in the United States — but they can, and arguably do, pursue an anti-racist agenda by de facto racist means.  That is to say, targeting systemic racism and targeting its effects aren’t necessarily the same thing, and the very fact that administrators and teachers in no-excuses schools are voicing their ambivalence around the issue now is itself ample evidence there hasn’t been sufficient consideration in the past around targeting anti-racism across the school’s conduct.

And yes, it is possible to pursue anti-racist ends via means that are themselves racist. The historical divergence between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois on matters of education might be framed as an argument over whether Washington’s form of “uplift” was predicated on racist ideology.

And then Green concludes with her weakest argument against no-excuses teaching, which is to say, the argument that she finds most easy to refute: that no-excuses teaching doesn’t work.  Again, to her credit, she raises some actually excellent concerns in this section, mostly driven by what she characterizes as the “side-effects” of such disciplinary policies: kids who are compliant but not creative, kids whose behavioral repertoire is overly scripted or narrow, consequences that unintentionally exacerbate the behavior they were meant to quell, and so on. If true, these are in fact enormous issues: some forms of no-excuses education would be, in effect, producing literate graduates who were nonetheless deficient in other ways , say, socially. In fact, one of the more consistent arguments against school reform efforts going back to NCLB is that the overly-narrow curricular focus ends up failing the “whole child” in other ways.  But having brought up the idea of “what works,” and then pointing to these large areas in which no-excuses teaching seems to let kids down, Green leaves those areas completely alone.

Instead, when she turns to reasons not to abandon no-excuses discipline, she hammers on one note: it works… to raise test scores.

She says this under the heading “Radical Structure Is Actually Radically Anti-racist”: “Looking at test scores, all the highest academic results ever produced for poor students and students of color have come from no-excuses schools. Period.”  That’s wonderful, obviously.  No-excuses teaching sets out to counter the effects of systemic racism and succeeds, by this measure.  That doesn’t mean that no-excuses policies are themselves anti-racist in practice.  The argument does nothing to counter the racism claims that she raised in the previous section: that the policies have in effect led to the disproportionate policing of African American culture.

To the test-score data, she adds that “Data collected by the KIPP charter school network in 2013 showed that 44 percent of the schools’ graduates go on to earn a four-year degree, compared to just 8 percent of low-income Americans.”  Again, that’s wonderful, a real achievement. And KIPP schools practice this no-excuses approach.  But no-excuses discipline is not the independent variable in this comparison: to gauge the effectiveness of no-excuses itself, you’d have to compare KIPP graduates to the graduates of other similar charters who don’t practice no-excuses disciplinary policies.  KIPP has had incredible and laudable success.  Is that success because of or incidental to their disciplinary policy?  The data that Green cites doesn’t say.  That suggests it can’t be an argument in favor of no-excuses discipline itself.

This “no-excuses just works” argument is the way she opens her section devoted to responding to the critics, and it’s meant to drown out and overshadow the remainder.  Deftly, though, she devotes the rest of her arguments to the idea that no-excuses practices don’t have to be mean or destructive, pointing to a “warm-strict” mode of implementation that achieves accountability without the harmful side effects; and she extolls the ability of no-excuses schools to mend themselves, saying, “the final compelling argument in favor of the no-excuses schools is that they are capable of changing, and that they can do this, to borrow their own language, ‘at scale.'”

These arguments are, if anything, just unimpressive.

First, if there are “right” and “wrong” ways of doing no-excuses education, why has the movement itself been so cavalier about including the “wrong” ways under its own heading?  The answer is, the people running things are still figuring it out; they didn’t know at the outset that there were better or worse ways of implementing no-excuses policies.  Green quotes one of her informants: “‘At the time, it reflected the best of our knowledge, but that was more than a dozen years ago,’ Tschang told me in response, by email.”

Part of the reason they didn’t know is that they didn’t bother to find out.  This is the part where moral zeal and vast intelligence can take on that destructive glint of arrogance.  Believing that traditional public schools had failed children, which meant that the adults working in those schools, and leading those districts, and writing the policy, were morally culpable, or at any rate, morally exhausted, the education reform movement sought to actually reinvent the wheel. Had they consulted the vast archive of classroom management practices, books on school culture, or works of educational philosophy, especially those of Nell Noddings, they might have come to the idea that privileging the relational aspects of the classroom decisively informs understandings of disciplinary practices much earlier.

Secondly, the idea that no-excuses schools can change at scale is a tough sell.  For exactly the same reason that no disciplinary policy can protect students from individual teacher bias, scaling as a concept is only of limited use when we’re talking about educational innovation. Green actually acknowledges this in one paragraph, only to seemingly forget about it by the end: “The more ‘replication’ schools emerge, the farther away each new school is from the good intentions of those who created the philosophy — and the higher the risk of teachers misinterpreting the idea and falling down a slippery slope toward a disconnected desire for control and compliance.”

Well… is the value of the innovation contained in a set of propositions that can be mechanically reproduced in school after school, or is it embodied as it were in the amorphous spirit of a first exemplar, such that the value of the innovation fades a little with each iteration?  Scaling would apply, conceptually, to the former, but not as neatly to the latter.

There is much more that could be said about this article.  On the whole, it is an effective piece of persuasive writing that simultaneously, if problematically, defends no-excuses disciplinary practices from its most damning critics and also advocates for tweaking some of its particulars.

But its effectiveness as a persuasive piece owes as much to its rhetorical organization as anything else: its success fully depends on the reader not noticing that Green’s counterarguments do not map onto to the objections she raises in the first half of the article.  Are no-excuses disciplinary practices harmful to children?  They don’t have to be, she says, acknowledging that they sometimes are.  Are no-excuses policies racist?  That depends on what you mean by “racist,” she essentially replies.  They’re not intentionally racist, though they don’t prevent it.  They work against the effects of systemic racism even though in some cases they seem also to  perpetuate such racism in practice.

But if academic achievement is the sine qua non of anti-racism, she says, then definitely yes, no-excuses discipline is anti-racist. Look at those numbers!  And don’t think too hard about whether the data is showing the difference between no-excuses and other disciplinary forms, as opposed to the difference between one large charter network and all other schools in general. And definitely don’t think too hard about the suggestion raised earlier in the article, that you might accidentally produce adults who score well on literacy and numeracy tests but who lack other characteristics of well-rounded, socially competent adults.

Green intends those numbers to carry the vast majority of her water, I think. To her, they make her point.  And that’s really the question that sticks with me at the end of this process of reading and writing: to what extent can you measure anti-racism via academic achievement metrics?

It’s an honest question, so I’m asking.




Margaret Spellings and Celebrity Leadership in Higher Education

If the night is always darkest just before the dawn, as the saying goes, it’s still the case that each new sunrise seems to dawn on yet another new head of a major university whose qualifications have much less to do with the specific nature of the institution to be led and much more to do with… well, what?

In a great new article, Jane Stancill heralds the new era for the University of North Carolina by pointing out all the issues folks have raised with new president Margaret Spellings:

Critics have seized on any number of things: her board service for a for-profit university; her $775,000 UNC salary; her lack of an advanced degree; her penchant for calling students “customers”; her past remarks about a PBS cartoon; her role in the No Child Left Behind law; her hiring of a consultant with private money to study the UNC system office; and her longtime association with former President George W. Bush, for whom she was an education adviser in Texas, domestic policy adviser in Washington, U.S. education secretary and most recently, head of his presidential center in Dallas.

Margaret Spellings is one of a long and growing list of university and college presidents whose institutional credentials — their relation to the people and processes they’ll be governing — are much less important than their ability to do “development” work and their putative business acumen.  And it’s not just the highest-level positions, either.  In Sandy Damico’s contribution to Seasons of a Dean’s Life, she tracks the growing prominence of fundraising experience in the list of desired qualifications featured in dean-level job postings.

So on the one hand, new administrators, from presidents on down, have to be good at attracting capital.  On the other hand, and at the same time, they have to be good at “promoting efficiency” and “eliminating waste,” which is where this putative business acumen comes in. Do more with less, is the mandate; but also, create more (to do less with?)

These are the pressures that brought now-ousted Mount Saint Mary’s president Simon Newman to power, whose business acumen was readily apparent in his concern with making enrollment numbers look good, whatever the actual conditions, even if it was less apparent in the tact with which he addressed those numbers.

These are the pressures that elevated Bruce Harreld to the presidency of the University of Iowa, despite lacking any experience in higher education leadership, or in higher education generally, and despite having fudged his own resume.   But he has connections to wealth and power, presumably, and that business acumen gleaned from executive positions with IBM and Boston Market.

Simon Newman’s presidency, I predict, will be alone in failing so spectacularly that it makes the Washington Post.  But these other presidencies, and many more besides, are already failures, and of a different kind.  Such presidencies are engineered to survive pressure brought on by conditions of scarcity, which would make some sense for for-profit enterprises or small private colleges.  But at flagship state universities — like Iowa and North Carolina — no such scarcity actually exists.  State funds continue to dry up, yes, and “accountability” talk remains all the rage, but these are the fruit of particular ways of seeing the world, not conditions of natural law.

The idea that citizens should only be narrowly and indirectly responsible for a general public good, that private individuals (and private corporations), with their tax breaks, are equally capable of and morally invested in looking after the larger social whole, is the reason that state funds are evaporating in the first place.

Great wealth is all around, even in Iowa. And yet a manufactured scarcity transforms the mission of our great state universities into the mission of every private business: More money in, less money out.  The new class of university presidents only makes this point explicit.

I think it was Milton Friedman who pointed out, accurately, that “the business of business is business.”

Well, now it’s the business of universities, too.

Mount St. Mary’s University President Resigns

Straight from the university’s own press release, available here, comes good news for academia at large:

Emmitsburg, MD (February 29, 2016) Mount St. Mary’s University today announced the resignation of its president, Simon Newman, effective immediately. Karl Einolf, Ph.D., Dean of the Richard J.Bolte, Sr., School of Business has been named by the Mount St. Mary’s University Board of Trustees as the school’s acting president.

“The board is grateful to President Newman for his many accomplishments over the past year, including strengthening the University’s finances, developing a comprehensive strategic plan for our future, and bringing many new ideas to campus that have benefitted the entire Mount community,” said John Coyne, Chairman of the Mount St. Mary’s University Board of Trustees. “We thank him for his service.”

“I am proud of what I have been able to achieve in a relatively short time particularly in helping the University chart a clear course toward a bright future,” said Simon Newman. “I care deeply about the school and the recent publicity relating to my leadership has become too great of a distraction to our mission of educating students. It was a difficult decision but I believe it is the right course of action for the Mount at this time.”

Before Einolf’s appointment to Dean of the Bolte School of Business in 2012, he served on the faculty as a professor of finance. He was a recipient of the University’s Richards Award for Teaching Excellence, and he served for six years as the Director of the Mount’s Honors Program. He has published papers in numerous business and economics journals, and has presented his work at national and international conferences. Before joining the Mount in 1998, Einolf served the Sprint Corporation in various finance, marketing, and human resource positions.

Civil Rights Malpractice: Some Notes on the Demise of No Child Left Behind

The Democrats’ overriding moral commitment to education reform has always centered upon the figure of the underserved, vulnerable student.  The political right finds itself invested in the same reforms, but for very different reasons, including a general preference for privatization, a distaste for teachers’ unions, and an abiding concern for America’s economic and military standing in the world.  For Democrats and allies on the left, though, the stark achievement gap between African American and white students has presented the most damning evidence of a national failure to educate all of its future citizens equally.  When framed like so, it’s easy to see why Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, at the height of the implementation of the Race to the Top program, declared that education is “the civil rights issue of our generation.”

And the parallels between the ways and means of civil rights legislation and the No Child Left Behind era are clear, as well.  As part of his rationale for legislative action in the early 2000s, President Bush invoked the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” implying that racial (among other) biases at the local level were at least partly to blame for the achievement gap between white students and most racial minorities, particularly African Americans.  Similar problems of local biases animated the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights legislation.

The basic likeness here, between the shape of Civil Rights legislation and education reform as embodied in NCLB and Obama’s Race to the Top, is straightforward: local structures of power and knowledge are prejudicially crippled in such a way that only federal power can ensure fair and equal processes of accountability.  Liz King makes this plain: “The lesson of the civil rights movement and community is that the federal government is the defender of vulnerable children and we are worried that with new state and local authority, vulnerable children are going to be at risk.”  On this view, the federal government defends vulnerable minority children from local tendencies, based in overt or unconscious racial bias, to ignore, underfund, or otherwise mismanage their education.  As Libby Nelson says, the restructuring of No Child Left Behind “means states could scale back their efforts to improve schools for poor and minority children.”

It is doubtless for this reason that, in the wake of last week’s congressional dustbinning of No Child Left Behind, Liz King and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights have expressed fears that the move might signal a return to a state in which schools and districts are free to ignore the needs of poor and minority students.  The retreat of strong federal oversight leaves disadvantaged students to the mercy of the very local structures that had failed them for so long.

But these fears on behalf of vulnerable students are overblown.  Not because the analysis of events is necessarily wrong: despite the fact that some accounts are quick to argue that the government is not getting out of the local-accountability business at all, it’s certainly at the very least a symbolic victory for congressional conservatives, for whom “local control” and “states’ rights” have longstanding and dog-whistle-y and decidedly anti-civil rights connotations.  That the federal government is retreating from local intervention to even a small degree is certainly a victory for those who would rather not devote resources to caring about the most vulnerable students.

But let us remember that federal mandates and the disempowering of local judgment, spurred by the civil rights movement, have also had profoundly deleterious effects on just those poor and minority populations that federal intervention was meant to protect.  Naomi Murakawa’s magisterial new book, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, documents the way in which mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, largely responsible for the contemporary experience of African Americans’ mass incarceration, evolved from a similar impetus on the part of well-meaning Democrats to solve problems of local bias in largely Southern jurisdictions.  The lesson here is: federal intervention on the behalf of poor and minority populations is only positive to the extent that its effects are positive, and there is substantial reason to be suspicious of No Child Left Behind’s effects in this regard.

By taking aim at the achievement gap in reading and math scores, No Child Left Behind and its Obama-administration progeny seized upon a proxy measure for the overall quality of a child’s education.  Reading and math were – and remain – the predominant way of measuring education at large because reading and math are the only domains in which standardized tests have good validity.  And given the scale of the achievement gap, there is (and was) little reason to doubt that the overall gap between white and minority students, across all educational domains, was real.

But there is no reason to believe that this inferential direction there can be reversed; that is, there is no reason to think that reducing the achievement gap in these two areas will amount to reducing the educational gap overall.  In fact, to the extent that additional time and effort focused on reading and math comes at the direct expense of other domains, the overall effect of a full-scale drive to lift math and reading performance can be disastrous.

Unsurprisingly, as Richard Rothstein and Diane Ravitch have demonstrated, this disaster is more or less what occurred, in many cases, even as math and reading scores rose.  Under the original accountability features of NCLB, well-to-do schools with majority white populations were under no threat of failing to make the grade, and still afforded their students a full and diverse educational experience, including a range of arts and extracurriculars. Meanwhile, those schools with high populations of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, those schools in danger of failing to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) as measured by math and reading tests, sought to avoid NCLB’s punitive sanctions by redirecting all efforts, even those of music and physical education teachers, toward raising test scores in those domains.

And so it was that No Child Left Behind succeeded in focusing attention on vulnerable students, just as its noble intentions wished.  But the result was not to erase the chasm between the quality of education for well-off white students and that of poor and minority ones, even though there was some real success in raising the math and reading scores, particularly of vulnerable students.  Instead, the increased attention to poor and minority students was somewhat nearer to the profoundly negative experience that Simone Browne associates with “the surveillance of blackness.” For the better part of a decade, economically-secure white students, whose schools never had to fret about making AYP, received a qualitatively different educational experience from their poor and minority peers, whose curriculum gravitated toward the two assessed domains and whose teaching practice erred on the side of test-preparation.

In bidding adieu to NCLB, and in resisting the urge to call its departure any kind of civil rights defeat, we instead ought to recognize the law’s similarity to the Reagan- and Clinton-era sentencing reform movement and label them both a form of malpractice in the implementation of civil rights intentions. Federal control over education isn’t necessarily the first step on the road to tyranny, as the political right is prone to imagining, but it is also definitely not an unmitigated blessing for those whom the political left would like to help.

In closing, I hope that the following fact is lost on no one: The school reform and accountability movement only ran into serious political trouble once the Obama administration replaced status models of measuring adequate progress (the percentage of students above a given score) with growth models (the percentage of students that reach expected individualized scores). Measuring each student’s growth toward an individualized goal meant that everyone, not just poor and minority students, had to care deeply about the test. When the wealthier parents of white students found their children subject to the kind of test-driven teaching that underprivileged children had undergone for a decade, only then did it become a bad idea.

Politically, teaching to the test and the resulting “curricular distortion,” as Rothstein calls it, were perfectly acceptable as long as poor and minority students were the primary targets.  The opt-out movement was nowhere to be found until this testing regimen affected the educational experiences of the politically powerful, too.

Caring about the education of poor and minority students is important. But manifesting that care in a way the upper classes would find unacceptable for their own children is probably not the kind of “caring” that the well-intentioned had in mind.  The demise of NCLB should not signal a return to a past in which the education of vulnerable students was not a matter of concern.  But perhaps caring is something that simply cannot be done well from far away.  As discretionary power reverts back to state and district education agencies, “local control” must also mean “local care.”