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No Child Left Behind: What Is It?

January 9, 2003

The anguish of school administrators, teachers, legislators and the public over the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) raises important questions. Is NCLB a continuation of the school restructuring that was set in motion in 1994 with Goals 2000, School-to-Work and HR6 under the Clinton administration? Or is NCLB something entirely new?

Who is a better authority on these questions than the man responsible for overseeing the 1994 Title I federal standards and assessment requirements, the Assistant Secretary of Education, Michael Cohen. Cohen describes himself this way:


In Michael Cohen's presentation to the Fordham Foundation's No Child Left Behind Conference in February of 2002, he explains:

While Minnesota was already on its way toward implementing the Profile of Learning in 1994, the Profile restructuring was designed to comply with the federal mandates, as Minnesota's Goals 2000 application clearly states. Other states gave their programs other names. State standards and tests in each state, however, would be based on federal standards (curriculum), such as the National Civics Standards, the National History Standards, national math standards (NCTM), and so on. Since the state standards and tests had to be approved by the federal Department of Education, they contained the federal curriculum which was being implemented in every state.


Previous federal laws and NCLB require that state standards and assessments be approved by the federal Department of Education (DOE). DOE guidelines for these standards and assessments follow the so-called "voluntary" national standards. They are, for example, the National Standards on Civics and Government, the National Social Studies Standards, the National History Standards, and the NCTM math standards. The federal content standards reflect a radical worldview, a post-modern philosophy that promotes values and beliefs at odds with the principles of freedom upon which our nation were founded.

State education bureaucrats have worked closely with the federal education administrative agencies to ensure that the Profile of Learning content and assessments are fully compliant with federal requirements. For example, the Department of Children, Families and Learning website states:

Further, the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) measures student progress toward these national standards (curriculum). The federal Department of Education reports the success of each state's educational system by the results of the NAEP.


State education bureaucrats have always recognized these federal standards, but, according to Cohen, legislators and governors have, for the most part, been unaware of them. Cohen describes it this way:

He gives examples of states mistakenly believing they were free to set their own standards:

This same problem arose in Minnesota when the 2001 legislature, in response to public resistance to the Profile, allowed school districts some wiggle room in complying with its requirements. Within weeks after the legislature adjourned, districts received letters from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning notifying them that if they took full advantage of the freedom the legislature had just provided them, their district would forfeit federal Title I money.

Cohen goes on to explain how this applies also to NCLB:

Michael Cohen leaves little doubt that governors and state legislators have been operating, and continue to operate, under an illusion that "they have a free hand in setting state education policy." He considers it the task of NCLB to finally educate states that the federal government is in charge.


If Minnesota repeals the Profile of Learning while at the same time keeping its assessments and standards in compliance with the radical national standards, we will have accomplished little more than a cosmetic touch-up of the same system. We will have one more "Profile fix" under a new name that will continue to impose an academically vacant curriculum - fuzzy math, history that is really multiculturalism, anti-American civics, and job training in place of knowledge. Diversity will continue to dominate the core curriculum and radical environmentalism will dominate science.

Minnesota has a historic opportunity to create genuine state academic achievement standards and tests that measure knowledge, not questionable attitudes. All students need to be proficient. A system of standards and tests can focus education, however, not on the same outcome for every student, but on opportunities for students to excel to levels of achievement to which they aspire. We need to provide opportunity for our children to compete for the heights of their capabilities. Our standards and