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This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Richard F. Elmore of Harvard’s Educational Leadership program calls the “testing trap” created by the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) “the single largest and possibly most destructive federal intrusion into America’s public schools.” We must teach to the test or be deemed failures.

Thomas Toch, co-director of the research group “Education Sector” warns us states are dumbing down their tests to switch from challenging essays to multiple choices. Doing so saves states money and time in correcting tests so federal reporting deadlines can be met.

Toch writes, “The result is that many of the tests states are introducing under NCLB contain many questions that require students to merely recall and restate facts, rather than do more demanding tasks like applying or evaluating information.”

Unfortunately it gets worse. Because teachers are forced by their superiors to teach to the test, time spent on subjects other than math and reading is reduced. In Philadelphia, lower grades have virtually no science or social studies classes. In upper grades, more than twice the amount of time is spent on math and reading as social studies and science. A survey by the Center on Education Policy found that 71 percent of the nation’s 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music, and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math.

As new NCLB legislation will be introduced this fall, I urge everyone to contact their federal representatives and demand that they improve and fund No Child Left Behind, or just say no to a poorly designed educational program. The lead person to contact regarding NCLB is Democratic Congressman George Miller, and his address is 2205 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, or

Keith Newman

The writer is a teacher at Morrison Elementary School.

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