7 Major Differences Between No Child Left Behind and Common Core/Race to the Top

1. Focus of Accountability: Schools or Teachers

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools and school districts were held accountable based on student scores.

Under Common Core/Race to the Top (CC/RttT), teachers are to be held accountable based on varying percentages of student scores from state to state.

2. Source of State Standards: State Agencies or Private DC-Based Organizations

Under NCLB or earlier, standards were developed by state departments of education guided by education schools, national teacher organizations, teachers, and higher education academic experts. They were approved through a public process applied to multiple drafts.

Under CC/RttT, standards were developed by private organizations with no transparent review and finalization process, and no public discussion of final draft. The March 2010 public comment draft went out for two weeks of comment, but the comments are not available to the public.

3. Control of Test Content: State Agencies or Federal Agency

Under NCLB, state tests were developed/contracted for by state departments of education and reviewed by a state’s teachers, consultants, and public agencies. Test items were also reviewed by independent sources before tests were given and/or after test administration.

Under CC/RttT, tests are developed by private organizations and unknown individuals, with limited public review of test items before tests [are] given and no public release of all or most test items after use.

4. Control of Passing Score: State Agencies or Federal Agency

Under NCLB in each state, the process for determining passing scores was controlled by state departments of education, with parents and state legislators participating in the determination of passing scores by means of an open vote.

For CC-based tests, there seems to be a non-transparent process controlled by both state departments of education and the test consortia, with possible oversight by the USDE. While parents and others may be included, committee membership may be controlled by both state DoEs and the test consortia, with no participation in a vote permitted to parents and state legislators. It is not clear how the passing score for all states will be determined and if there will be state-specific scores. An announcement from one test consortium indicates that “recommendations from the Online Panel, the In-Person Panel, and the Vertical Articulation Committee” will be presented to the chief school officers in Smarter Balanced governing states for their consideration and endorsement, in order to establish a common set of achievement levels for mathematics and English language arts/Literacy across grades 3–8 and high school.

No involvement is indicated for the Congressional House of Representatives.

5. Purpose: High school graduation or college-readiness

Under NCLB, the goal of K-12 standards was graduation from high school based on passing tests based on state-developed standards. Under RttT, the goal after passing tests based on CC standards is enrollment in credit-bearing coursework at post-secondary institutions, with the further goal of a college diploma or certificate. Assumption: every student is judged on preparedness for college, even though it is not clear that preparedness for that goal is equivalent to preparedness for an occupational career.

6. Who benefits? Professional Development Providers or Technology and Global Education Companies

Who makes money from the public trough? Under NCLB, professional development providers. Under CC/RttT, high-tech companies that need to equip 50 million students for computer-based testing, and global/national professional development providers that can now provide the same kind of program to all teachers.

7. Subject Expertise of Teachers: Assured by School District or State Licensure Test Only

Under NCLB, states and local school districts were to ensure the subject expertise of all teachers (via an undergraduate major, a teacher license, or HOUSSE plan to ensure “highly qualified” teacher). Under RttT, teacher subject expertise is subsumed under teacher “effectiveness,” on the basis of which redistribution of teachers may take place if it can be determined that low-income students have a lower percentage of “effective” teachers than do other students.


This article has been reprinted from the Pioneer Institute.


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