Book Review: No Child Left Behind And The Public Schools

I’m a blatant partisan, there’s no denying that. So when Mike first emailed to see if I would review a book entitled No Child Left Behind And The Public Schools: Why NCLB will fail to close the achievement gap-and what we can do about it by Scott Franklin Abernathy, you can rest assured that I was onboard.

You mean I get to review a book that trashes NCLB? SIGN ME UP!

A few days later I received the book in the mail. To my immediate disappointment, and later glee, Abernathy’s work was in fact no such liberal rant on the federal mandate on public education. No, what I got was so much better.

Sure there is plenty of fuel to fan the flames of harsh political discourse… for both sides actually, but these little snippets pale in comparison to the book as a whole because while the argument of NCLB has been boiled down to phrases such as “unfunded mandate,” and “teaching to the test,” Abernathy has gone beyond using the program as a political football.

Instead what we are treated to is a tale of the little public education bill that could. In the first chapter, Abernathy adeptly summarizes the over six hundred page bill, pointing out both its strengths and weaknesses, admiring it for what it attempts to achieve, and lamenting those aspects of the program that make it an almost guaranteed failure.

The following chapters are spent parsing empirical evidence and listening to testimonies from principals all across Minnesota (the testing grounds from where Abernathy extracted his data), and building up a concise argument of NCLB’s faults, and how to rectify them.

At the heart of NCLB’s analysis are questions such as; how do we measure a good education? How can we provide a feasible and positive incentive system? And how do we account for the discrepencies from one school populace to the next so we don’t fall into a one-size-fits-all conundrum?

It should be said here that there is a serious wonk alert here. NCLB is not a bit of light reading to partake in while getting ready to turn in for the night. Much of it is statistical analysis, charts, and complex system models based off of modern business and economics. In this regard, we see perhaps the volume’s greatest strength and maybe its greatest weakness as well.

While much of the information is vital, it has not been made reader friendly to a large audience, and I suspect that there will be many groups that should read this book but may find it difficult. Still, especially in a year when No Child Left Behind is up for renewal, it would behoove all to put the effort in to read this book for at its core is not just a documented and statistically verified laundry list of what is wrong with the bill…

…There is also a recipe on how it could be fixed. Whether you’re an educational policy wonk, a public education professional, a concerned parent eager to look into the future of your child’s education, or just a political junkie, No Child Left Behind And The Public Schools is a definite must read.


Note: If you have a book due out for publication soon, or has been recently published, and would like to have it reviewed here at Comments From Left Field, please email either myself at or Michael Tedesco at, for mailing information. Please allow at least one week from the time of delivery before the publishing of our review.

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