If the keynote message chosen for the annual summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in Minneapolis this week is the indicator I think it is, there's no love lost in the nation's state capitols for the 13-year-old federal school reform initiative called No Child Left Behind.
Tuesday's featured speaker was Sir Ken Robinson, a British-born educator and author who has turned his critique of the federal law's standardized testing imperative into a sort of cottage industry. His 2006 TED talk touting more creativity-enhancing educational tactics is deemed the most-watched video in the history of the acclaimed short-talks series.
Modern humans have "created all kinds of issues that we have to think more creatively about. But the problem with education is that we have adopted in many countries in the last 10 or 15 years a policy of standardizing, which is militating against the development of individual talents and general creative capacities," he told the assembled legislators from around the United States and 26 other nations.
No Child Left Behind is well intentioned, but its reliance on standardized testing as the chief agent of reform "removes discretion from the people who actually do the work of education," Robinson said. Testing has become "the purpose rather than the means of school improvement"; teachers "feel deprofessionalized," and the creativity of both students and teachers is stifled.
HIs was the opening general session's second punch at No Child Left Behind. Earlier, former Minnesota House Speaker Martin Olav Sabo was honored as one of NCSL's founders 40 years ago. Sabo said he'd been especially pleased when NCSL leaders "raised a courageous voice" in criticism of the "fundamental overreach" by the federal government that No Child Left Behind represents.
Robinson asserted that educational systems should be judged by how well they promote creativity. If that idea catches on at the state and local levels, I'll look for the academic pendulum to swing back toward the liberal arts and fine arts, disciplines that have lost emphasis under No Child Left Behind.