A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why No Child Left Behind is inherently unfair

Despite efforts to align IDEA with NCLB through the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA,  IDEA and NCLB are fundamentally incompatible.  Whereas individual progress towards IEP goals is at the heart of IDEA,  school wide progress, as measured by standardized tests, are at the heart of NCLB. NCLB can use a single measure of progress for students with disabilities, i.e., a standardized test score, because accountability within NCLB  is determined by group and subgroup performance at the school level, not by individual performance. IDEA's accountability, on the other hand,  is student-centered. Developmental factors are evaluated and considered in a nondiscriminatory way  as part of the IEP process:

"In acknowledging that poverty and linguistic diversity can be causes of disability, IDEA also acknowledges the theory called co-morbidity or 'the new morbidity.' That theory holds that one or more of the following factors affect a child, the likelihood that the child will have a disability increases."  (Turnbull, H., Stowe, M., & Huerta,  N., p. 42, 2007)

Individual developmental differences, caused by factors such as poverty, limited English proficiency (LEP status), home environment, and unwed mothers, are in effect whitewashed by NCLB, either through accountability waiver schemes, or through school-wide averaging.

Although evidence-based interventions are required under IDEA (2004) prior to a determination of disability, student readiness factors affect the  effectiveness of Response to Intervention (RTI) interventions. For example, an emergent reader would be at a disadvantage in passing a 3rd grade SOL. Compounding matters, Stanovich concluded,  already disadvantaged readers are further disadvantaged by the  Mathew Effect: "Children who read well have  bigger vocabularies will read more, learn more words, and read better" (Gunning,  p. 543, 2010). No such consideration is given to an individual's developmental factors  under NCLB. Schools are held accountable for school-wide Adequate Yearly Progress performance measures, despite a lack of control over demographic factors.


Gunning, T. (2010). Assessing and correcting reading and writing difficulties, 4th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Turnbull, H., Stowe, M., & Huerta,  N. (2007). Free appropriate education: The law and children with disabilities.  Denver: Love Publishing Company.