No Child Held Back: The White Paper

The first part (called a “module”) of the NCHB free online course involves reading the NCHB white paper. I mentioned this briefly, but after trading a few emails with the author (Yovel Badash), I decided to take the time to read and comment on it. Plus, he is trying to get a “conversation” started on this topic, so to avoid sounding really stupid I wanted to gather background information and my own thoughts before I foray out into someone else’s world.

Here goes. I will emphasize that, point-by-point, I find myself in an amazing amount of agreement with Mr. Badash. My comments below reflect mostly where I have questions and/or concerns.
The quote on the cover is 

A child is not a vase to be filled,
but a fire to be lit.
– François Rabelais


Yet this (the former) is how we do modern education. Which I take is exactly the point of this paper in the first place.


“Education reform is not just important for individual students, it is crucial for our country’s survival.”

I agree in principle, but I am begining to think we place too much emphasis on wiping out everything we have and starting over. Some of what we do now is good. Where is the balanced perspective?


“New research shows that student-centered, customized learning is the most reliable model for enabling students of all cognitive abilities to achieve academic success”

What research? I am convinced I could find research to show me anything I want. This is no longer a convincing argument for me.


“No Child Held Back embraces this paradigm and encourages a dynamic shift in teaching, community partnership, and technology adoption to support an educational model based on foundations of positive reinforcement, healthy competition, individualized learning, student and parent responsibility, course variety, quality instruction, and fostering growth for both students and educators.”

Very large goals. Are they practical? Attainable? S.M.A.R.T.?


I really like what the Executive Summary says. However it sounds really expensive. Not that I am opposed on that reason alone, but big price-tags have their own overhead. What is the roadmap and accountability pathway to make sure that all the extra resources invested into this effort are directly applied to the goals?


The graph on page 3 has no y-axis labels. When I finally looked up the quoted report, I found the original graph (copied from yet another source – more on that soon) saying that the student-teacher ratio fell 18% between 1980 and 2005. Yet the source is “National Center for Education Statitics, NEAP (1998)”. 1998!!! How did they know the ratio fell by 18% in 2005? And what in the world is NEAP? (Don’t believe me – check out the URL for the PDF, and/or the screenshot)

If we are to take this graph at face value, the dramatic rise in spending-per-student, along with the alledged decrease in class size, is made even more striking by the mostly negative (or in other cases, just flat-lining) trend of measured academic performance.


As I read through the ideaologies of NCHB, I start to get concerned. This is almost sounding like a “we need to re-divert energies from focusing on the bottom quartile to much and start focusing on the upper quartile”. Note, this is *NOT* a quote. 🙂 Just my gross perspective. Mr. Badash later acknowledges that his paper might sound that way and suggests his approach helps everyone. Interesting that Dr. Alves says that by placing emphasis on the bottom quartile, everyone is helped. See, I told you I could find research to say anything I want. 🙂


Healthy Competitiveness When students know that nothing will hold them back and they can see peers rewarded for reaching personal achievement goals, they will be more inclined to push themselves forward in a healthy competitive way. Charter schools have clearly shown how positive peer pressure successfully encourages students and creates role models among disadvantaged students who have few other positive role models outside the classroom. Allowing dedicated students to enjoy special activities and rewards is a great motivator for encouraging their peers to try harder to attain their own rewards.”

This sounds great, but I am convinced this model does not work for everyone. What is the plan to address those for whom this goal is not a good one?

Page after page, I keep thinking to myself, “Yes, this is exactly what we have been talking about!”. Individualized learning, testing as a means of monitoring growth (not punitive in any way), community engagement….. all these things sound great. But how? How do you implement them? How do you afford them?

This paper seems to suggest that technology can help fill that gap. As one 21st century tech after another is named, I cannot help but remember back to Khan Academy and what the Bill & Melinda Foundation are trying to accomplish; open, transparent platforms that create a socialized aparatus of tracking individual learners and a highly hierarchical learning path for them to traverse, almost all 100% online.

So I have trouble seeing how NCHB purports any actionable steps. They make a great sounding board for other technologies that are already out there (as mentioned).


As I stated near beginning of my review, I am starting to worry that those of us who talk about reform have filters on our outlook that allow us to minimize that which is good and healthy in our current systems. We already have great teachers. Sure, we have a few bad apples – NCHB ain’t gonna get rid of bad apples, sorry. The current system does a pretty decent job at educating some students – there are clearly students that do really well. How does one explain that if NCLB and our Educational System is all bad?


The Huffington Post’s Education section recently put up an article showcasing Shanghai as the leader of the pack in standardized testing. My take on the article and the video (the comments notwithstanding) is that Shanghai basically teaches to the test, on steroids. Is this a bad thing? That is a very weighty question. As the short documentary points out, there are some things China does not do (trying to come up with a Chinese way of saying Mark Zuckerberg just sounds like a bad idea).


Here is my point. What is really the root issue here? What question are we really trying to answer? Obviously the highest test scores are not what NCHB is going after. Standardized tests have seemed like the proverbial carrot that we will never reach. I personally think we need to look for the root issue, not in academics or even education for that matter, but in the huge percentage of our world that impoverished and oppressed. Generation after generation we have told our kids what is really important. So look at the world around you – this is what you have taught your kids. If you want a different world, then perhaps we need to teach our kids differently.


PS – no, I have not yet watched “Waiting for Superman”. But I am thinking I should. Browsing their website, I am thinking that Yovel’s audience is already over there.


4 Responses to “No Child Held Back: The White Paper”

  1. Chuck Says:

    Too bad you weren’t at the University YMCA Friday Forum this past week, the UI Dean of Ed gave a talk. Though the Y says that they eventually put them up on Youtube, they have yet to add a single talk from this semester. WEFT rebroadcasts them Monday night but that opportunity is also past. There were also some technical issues (the power went out) so whatever recording they have is likely not very good anyway. I thought about recording it myself and didn’t assuming the official version would be better… sorry.

    ANYWAY, Dean Mary Kalantzis had many good things to say including the reality that the competitive rankings from country to country don’t really include test results from similar populations. For a long time, one of the main differences in American education has been that we try to educate EVERYONE. Other nations, other places don’t. If that’s good or bad, can be debated but it is certainly a notable difference.

    She also pointed out that in Australia (her home country) and other places education has a greater leveling effect than it does in the USA.

    So, what do we want from education?

    I want every single kid who is mentally able to read, literate. These numbers would NOT show socio-economic or racially distinct numbers.
    I want real opportunity open and unabridged for every kid so that they can decide their future rather than have someone else do it – either because of inadequate preparation to take advantage of opportunity or because of racism or opportunities lost due to poverty.

    But what is opportunity isn’t enough?

  2. Blended learning « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] to link in my earlier post of “No Child Held Back“, as that is very relevant for this particular conversation. ShareShareEmail Pin It Posted […]

  3. The future of Education « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] stated in several previous posts (ie, 1, 2, 3), I have observed an emphasis on “data-based student metrics”. And now we are seeing […]

  4. More finger-pointing « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] I still love the quote I heard while reading Badash’s effort with “No Child Held Back“ […]

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