Arne Duncan's view of what needs to be done (better tests, better tracking systems, rigorous and uniform standards, earlier start, better teachers) is based on the assumption that there is something seriously wrong with American education.
The only thing wrong is poverty. When you control for the effects of poverty, American children do quite well compared to children in other countries. US schools with fewer than 25% of children in poverty outscore all countries in the world in Math and Science (see Gerald Bracey's column on the Huffington Post, July 22, 2007). US children only fall below the international average when 75% of more of the students in a school are children of poverty.
The obvious solution is to reduce poverty. When all children have proper diets, are surrounded by good reading material, and have the other advantages that children from high-income families have, our schools will be considered the best in the world.
For a description of the devastating (but often reversible) effects of hunger, see Gerald Coles: "Hunger, academic success, and the hard bigotry of indifference" Rethinking Schools, vol 23, 2, 2008/2009.
No Child Left Behind is leaving thousands of children behind!
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