Tag Archives: No Child Left Behind


My career as a resident educator included teaching in Texas, Arizona, and Kansas. For years my colleagues and I provided consultant services to school districts in the U.S. and Taiwan.

Most field services and my residential teaching jobs were in America. Which was culturally diverse, influenced in surprising ways: race, religion, attitudes toward learning, local diversions, language, population diversity, weather, the economy, and generational traditions. 

Much teaching and consultant work occurred when that kind of diversity prevailed. 

Before the 2001 imposition of the rigid No Child Left Behind. Before other federally initiated programs meant to micromanage schools. Before the pandemic and rise of today’s political rancor.

The educational era before 2001 featured exploration. Mixed with the joy of community idiosyncrasies. Wrapped in an American spirit that was both unifying and distinctively charming.

Service to educators in that era was relational, conversational, and mutually enlightening. Not procedural or mechanistic. Not advising clients of my nonprofit organization (cliweb.org) how to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

It was a learning experience for both clients and consultants. Interacting in ways that provided new insights and novel ways to solve perplexing problems. Learning new procedures and perspectives that could be useful somewhere else.

Exciting ideas and practices emerged from one cultural setting. Transferred somewhere else for the enrichment of student learning. Give and take. In the American spirit of academic adventure, directed at helping students achieve creatively. Helping them acquire a sense of purpose.

Misguided Definitions of Culture

NCLB was created out of concerns raised in the 1983 Nation at Risk Report. A document and political spark that contained both admonitions for greater academic exploration AND recommendations for controlling what was deemed reckless eclecticism in public school curricula. Both a philosophically expansive idea and a call for systematizing learning outcomes. 

Through the NCLB initiative, the philosophically expansive quest was buried under a rigid method for systematizing student learning outcomes to support uniform economic growth.

NCLB codified and indirectly mandated a growing focus on academic benchmarks and standardized testing. It promised federal funding that never materialized. Concurrently, the courts required equalized funding in each state that reduced the availability of discretionary funds for program improvement and faculty training at the local level.

Until those efforts to nationalize school improvement started, I enjoyed the rich cultural traditions of rural districts in Nebraska. The supportive town meeting decision-making environment in Maine. The dynamic mix of opinions in Chicago. The quest for merging native belief systems into the Zuni, New Mexico curriculum. Figuring out ways to consolidate small school districts in North Dakota to give them better ways to serve students. Acknowledging the importance of family and community values by merging them with a Wyoming district’s curriculum.

The distinctiveness of each state and community within America felt right. Even with such cultural diversity, there was evidence of a national soul. A happy uniqueness existing inside an indulgent national family of eccentrics.

NCLB transported a micro culture invented in Texas to the national stage when George W. Bush was elected president. Bush was convinced his state’s school improvement model was effective. That it should be expanded to the national level. A bipartisan group in Congress agreed, thereby modifying the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) provisions.

The state’s model was given birth in the entire nation.

Interestingly, Ross Perot was the prime mover. An influential billionaire and political aspirant who had strong and controversial opinions about Texas education programs. Perot was appointed chair of the state’s new Select Committee on Public Education (SCOPE). Perot and the committee attacked what they considered big problems:

  • Poorly compensated teachers. (Perot liked longer days, smaller classes, and merit pay).
  • The dominance of sports programs like football over academic priorities.
  • The 180-day school year, shorter than all other nations.
  • An inadequately challenging academic curriculum, especially in the realms of basic literacy and math skills.
  • A need for achievement tests, especially for those students involved in sports programs.
  • The core value that teachers come from the “dumbest folks in college” and are incompetent.
  • More money spent for education produces no measurable effect on student learning.
  • Schools are bogged down in bureaucracy.
  • No national standards for student learning and no way to measure accountability.
  • Schools are not organized to meet society’s needs because learning is not a priority.
  • Parents do not have enough authority over what happens in schools.

Perot and his committee drew those conclusions from the perspective of the business community. I could agree with many of them. Yet strongly disagree with others.

Although Perot’s run for the presidency as an independent was strong but ultimately unsuccessful, Texas governor Bush did get to the White House. And accomplished at the national level what had become the aspirational culture of the Lone Star State.

That new national culture emerging out of Texas prevailed for many years, then began to morph into something different. But with similar features. Now, COVID-19 has and continues to modify the original plan even more.

Perot was in many ways an exceptional American entrepreneur and political mover. I admire his life’s accomplishments in shaking up a culture that badly needed it. And for creating a new way of thinking and believing.

Where Perot failed was in understanding the inextricable nature of human culture and the value of interacting viewpoints. That public schools and higher education are not meant to have a singular academic focus. Except in those categories of the curriculum that teach skills meant to support survival AND success in a complex society. Which are only tools for applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Tools that Perot used in highly effective if controversial ways.

His kind of service is not my kind of service because we define the word and characteristics of “culture” differently. Perot defined it as a substructure of economic success. I define it as a means through which all its members can live with a sense of purpose and meaning derived from faith and strong belief systems.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved



Service is never one dimensional. It can be offered and delivered for different reasons, some of which are opposites based on practical, political, or religious convictions. Or what one considers correct or incorrect thinking. We serve what we believe at the moment. No matter where or how that belief originated.

My professional service as an educator is rooted in opening intellectual doors to promote critical and creative thinking, which are the foundation for richer and more productive lives. I do not believe in indoctrination. Especially the kind based on promoting skills or actions designed to fulfill intentions of leaders with questionable ambitions or nefarious goals. Or objectives that are either operationally neutral or just mechanistically useful.

Scientists who invented the atom bomb found the project to be an interesting challenge and service to their country. They only later thought about the social implications of their work.

Engineers who designed and built the RMS Titanic and other ships of its class accepted poorly thought-out principles and techniques. To achieve the look of British magnificence and performance. Accepting shortcuts necessary to impress and compete. Which resulted in an unmitigated disaster.

This article is about such ways of thinking and action in our schools for over two decades.

The impact of COVID-19 on schools seems multidimensional. Student enrollment is down. Learning quality has suffered. Teachers and principals are demoralized. Thousands of educators have left or plan to leave.

Multiple solutions are being considered: salary improvements, reductions in certification requirements, and upgrades in working conditions. All quick fixes to address big challenges.

But quick fixes are merely patch jobs. Repairs to keep the schools from sinking until more substantial improvements are made. If ever.

Lessons from the Titanic Disaster

We know the story about the RMS Titanic and its 1912 sinking after striking an iceberg. The iceberg collision revealed fundamental flaws in the ship’s construction and operation.

An iceberg in the ocean was like the COVID-19 pandemic. A phenomenon of nature that proved our human vulnerability and hubris.

For the Titanic it is was bad metallurgy. The use of rivets to assemble the hull’s plates. Poorly designed “waterproof” compartments. Excessive nighttime speed through a field of icebergs. Above all, the advertised claim the ship was unsinkable gave both passengers and the ship’s officers a sense of invulnerability and haughtiness.   

And they paid a horrible price. Similar to what is happening to American young people today.

The pandemic exposed existing issues begun 22 years ago with the creation of No Child Left Behind. NCLB’s inspiring name, just like Titanic, masked serious design flaws. Reducing teachers to the level of civil servants made to comply with bureaucratically created academic standards. Held accountable for student success on high stakes pencil and paper tests. Narrowing curriculum to basic skills, which had the effect of minimizing critical thinking and creative behaviors.

During the worst of the pandemic, teachers were forced to conduct virtual instruction from home. They did not have deep enough knowledge of curricular intentions or modified instructional techniques to maintain momentum. That was the beginning of student learning decline and intense teacher anxiety and depression.

There is no chance of preserving much of anything from the wreck of the Titanic, over two miles under the surface. Only a few artifacts have been lifted from the debris field. Scientists believe the entire ship will disappear by the middle part of the 21st Century.

Is that also the destiny of American education?

What Is Learned from Disasters

Since the loss of the Titanic, much has been learned about the building of large metal ships. And how to save passengers when they founder. Can the same be said for the era begun by NCLB?

Titanic foundered primarily because of inadequate rivets and metallurgical issues with its hull in extremely cold conditions. NCLB foundered because it discounted the value of creative and relational teaching/learning processes. It also placed far too much initial importance on basic skill development in reading and mathematics.

The Titanic’s engineers and builders knew about oceanic conditions and weather-related threats. But, like the inventers of NCLB, discounted the underlying importance of variables. Variables like unusually large icebergs with huge subsurface masses. Or human learning needs that are multitudinous and eclectic.

Titanic’s captain and crew understood the threat of icebergs. They accelerated anyway, because they were told their ship was unsinkable. NCLB theorists believed that high stakes tests designed to assess teacher accountability and promote a competitive spirit between and among schools would improve the quality of student learning.

Both assumptions have been proven wrong.

Titanic sideswiped an iceberg and sank. Schools lost whatever effectiveness they had when teachers were micromanaged. Reduced to the level of civil servants. Required to excessively narrow the curriculum. 

Before running into a pandemic.

Restructuring our schools based on what we have learned will take more time and effort than learning how to build better ships. Good ships need a better understanding of their component parts and how they are assembled. Plus crews that know how to effectively pilot them.

Schools need autonomously professional teachers well prepared in both curriculum and instructional design. Teachers given the authority to stimulate and regularly assess the quality of creative learning.

Preparing teachers in such a comprehensive manner and giving them a work environment that allows them to perform in ways that produce quality 21st Century citizens, is no small task.

Nor can it be based on old mindsets as to what teachers are and do.

The professional status of teachers must far exceed what it is now. Not simply in monetary compensation. But also in terms of how well they inspire students as purposeful future citizens who have the potential to live meaningful lives.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved