This week President Barack Obama will send to Congress his long-awaited proposals for overhauling the No Child Left Behind law, which was introduced under the Bush administration. While there are elements of continuity with the current law, the new framework also envisages some sweeping reforms.
The devil will be in the detail, which will emerge in congressional drafting of the legislation, but the direction of reform is already clear. There will be less emphasis on students meeting minimum benchmarks for grade performance, and more on academic growth; schools will be judged not just on their test scores, but also on graduation rates and their learning climate; and schools that perform strongly stand to receive more support and a greater degree of freedom in decision-making.
How does all of this relate to the themes discussed in the 2010 Global Monitoring Report? One striking parallel is the focus on equity-based monitoring. In the 2010 GMR we called for governments to introduce monitoring and report systems that document not just “national average performance,” but also the disparities that cut across societies.
Part of the problem with the Education for All goals and the Millennium Development Goals is that they tend to ignore the gaps in education that divide rich from poor, boys from girls, ethnic or linguistic minorities from the rest of society, and children living in slums or remote rural areas from their more prosperous peers.
While schools can do a great deal to combat marginalization, opportunities for education are inevitably influenced by the wider social disadvantages associated with poverty, health unemployment, crime, teenage pregnancy and housing. The Harlem Children’s Zone project discussed in the 2010 GMR appears to have succeeded in education because school reform has been one element in a more broad-based assault on these wider disadvantages.
If the United States is to move towards a future in which no child is left behind in education, education will have to be integrated more effectively into a wider agenda for combating disparities linked to wealth and race.