“No Child Left Behind”: That poll-tested slogan is the centerpiece of an artfully designed, meticulously implemented p.r. campaign designed to portray Texas as a hotbed of educational reform and achievement.
Certainly, the Texas accountability system has put some focus on teaching basic literacy skills to low-income children who may have been ignored in decades past. However, it also ranks schools based mainly on the rates at which students (both whites and minorities) pass a single standardized test.
This feature of the Texas system, which has provoked the most controversy, is the basis of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Politicians and some in the Texas education bureaucracy have worked overtime to convince the nation that their accountability system, enacted in 1993, has improved student achievement and closed the academic gap between racial minorities and whites.
There is another story, however—one that many Texans, particularly those with children in the public schools, know—that is little told outside the Lone Star State. It is a story of education policy based not on helping all children learn but on creating headlines about a “miracle” in Texas education. It is a story of students doing multiple-choice testing drills instead of reading Shakespeare.
George Orwell would have understood what has happened here. In the name...