On January 8, 2002 President George Bush signed NCLB, The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. He was flanked by cosponsors Ted Kennedy and John Boehner, among others, all wearing ear-to-ear grins because they knew their legislation, which had received nearly unanimous bipartisan support in Congress, would solve all our education problems with the stroke of a pen.
Wasn’t that a wonderful day! By 2014, illiteracy would end (or else). One hundred percent of our students would read and solve math problems at grade level. Children who had never received pre or post-natal care, children who had been malnourished since birth, children who had never been read to, children whose parents had never purchased a book nor bothered to take them to the library, children with significant emotional disturbance, even children with such severe dyslexia that The Catcher in the Rye looks like nothing more than a tangled plateful of spaghetti, would suddenly read like magic (or else). Children living in this country for less than a week, who can barely say “hello” in English, would miraculously achieve proficiency on what would become standardized tests by 2014. That, my friends, was one powerful pen.
It occurs to me we can solve all kinds of seemingly intractable problems in this country with the same powerful pen. Isn’t crime a major issue in this country? Isn’t crime as important as illiteracy? Why don’t we solve it with NCLB, No Crime Left Behind? With a simple act of Congress, we will mandate a reduction in crime by one hundred percent by 2021. Think of it! In ten years, there will not be a single criminal act in the entire county. And we will do it the same way the original NCLB did it, by setting annual benchmarks and inflicting severe consequences for failure to meet those objectives. (Or else.)
According to this new NCLB, police departments will be required to reduce crime by ten percent per year. Just ten percent! What could be easier? In ten years, our job will be done. If not, there will be consequences. We will start by going after the unions. Oh those evil police unions who stand in the way of the kinds of simple, meaningful reforms we need to reduce crime by just ten percent. They protect all those idle police officers by making it impossible to fire the incompetents who sit in their police cars all day devouring endless boxes of doughnuts while criminals outside continue to ravage their communities. We will obliterate collective bargaining and pensions. Police officers, like teachers, pay into public pensions instead of social security. By eliminating their pensions, we will see to it that these malfeasants starve to death after thirty years of service. We will publicly humiliate inner-city officers by publishing their names and crime data on websites and in local newspapers. We will take the very bravest of them all, those who risk their lives every day to patrol our most dangerous, blighted neighborhoods, round them up and fire them, because statistics will prove, as do standardized test scores, that they are all incompetent, abysmal failures. That will teach them to reduce crime!
Then we will dismantle the departments themselves. We will create “charter” police departments. The beauty of charter police is that usually no one holds them accountable. And even when they do, no one pays any attention. A 2009 national study by Stanford University concluded only seventeen percent of charter schools performed significantly better than public schools. They often do this by advantageous geography and/or selective admission policies. But despite their discriminatory practices, more than twice as many charter schools, 37 percent, were demonstratively worse than their public school counterparts and 46 percent were absolutely no different. No one pays any attention. Everyone from Education Secretary Arne Duncan (who should know better) to John Boehner (remember him?) to Bill Gates and Eli Broad continue to laud, advocate and fund the expansion of charter schools at the expense of public schools. Let’s eliminate crime by doing the same for law enforcement. We can gloat over the impressive accomplishments of the Beverly Hills Charter Police while ignoring the deficiencies of their counterparts in Watts, Compton, and nearly everywhere else.
In the end, we will solve the crime problem by getting rid of the police entirely. Providence, Rhode Island sent pink slips to every single one of its teachers. Layoff notices went out to nearly five thousand L.A. teachers. Ditto New York. California anticipates thirty thousand, Texas a staggering one hundred thousand. Michigan ordered Detroit to close half its public schools. By demonizing people the way we have teachers and teacher unions, we can now utilize a new NCLB to do the exact same thing to the police.
And to doctors. How many doctors routinely kill their cancer patients every year? What we need is NCLB, No Cancer Left Behind. Let’s end terminal cancer in this country once and for all ten years from now by passing a law that includes annual benchmarks and merciless consequences for doctors. With widespread bipartisan support, we will eradicate these unnecessary fatalities in a decade with a stroke of that powerful pen (or else). It’s just that simple.
Or is it? Perhaps medicine, law enforcement, and education are more complex than NCLB.
Joseph K. is a 24-year veteran of LAUSD, a former mentor teacher twice named a Johns Hopkins University Teaching Fellow, who now teaches poor, inner-city children who wake up every morning in their gang-ridden, drug-infested neighborhoods at five a.m. to catch the bus by six. He teaches the old-fashioned way –by ignoring standardized test scores. Instead of teaching bubbling, he tries to instill a love of knowledge and learning in his students and for this reason will probably be allowed to continue teaching for fifteen more minutes.