The No Child Left Behind Act: the divide between policy and practice

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Wood, Teri

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This research explores the divide in communication between policy makers and educators with respect to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). A brief overview of the current political climate surrounding education of offered to provide some context for the policy. Historical perspectives on the enterprise of education, including those of Mann, Dewey, Ravitch and Callahan, are discussed to expose the roots of NCLB. Theoretical perspectives from Ellul, Foucault, Habermas and Gadamer are provided as lens through which the actions of policy makers and educators might be considered. Transcripts from the House Committee Hearings leading up to the creation of NCLB were analyzed in order to gain some understanding of policy maker intentions for the law. The transcripts were also studied to determine who is providing input to politicians during the law making process. The text of the policy was then analyzed to further understand the legal intent behind education law. Educators including, three elementary campus-level administrators and six teachers, were interviewed to determine educator perceptions about the effects of NCLB on practice and perceived differences about the purposes of education between educators and lawmakers. Based on the analysis of congressional hearings, politicians gave little evidence of deeper understanding of the purposes of education compared with the understandings gathered from educator interviews. Gaps in dialogue opportunities were evident with politicians typically interacting with hearing contributors representing business people and heads of school districts rather than campus educators. Educators in turn tended to talk with other educators whom they felt understood them. Most of those educators interviewed expressed little interest in working to educate policy makers about the needs of schools. Educator understanding of NCLB was limited to knowledge related to discreet compliance information.