Astroturf politics and NCLB

Who’s behind a fake grassroots campaign to maintain the insane current version of No Child Left Behind?

Does anyone know who’s paying for this piece of dishonest trash? It came up in a pop-up. I never heard of DD&C LLC, but they seem to specialize in “astroturf” campaigns: i.e., fake grassroots.

The notion that schools need to be held accountable for performance ought to be indisputable, though major elements of the educational establishment continue to dispute it.

The notion that No Child Left Behind, as currently written, is a competent way to do so can’t stand up to ten minutes’ worth of analysis.

First, outside of Lake Wobegone, it’s statistically impossible for everyone to be above average. [Update: Wrong! More here.] Second, the current measures of performance are so crude that they incentivize success simulation measures, such as teaching to the test. Third, the random variability in year-to-year results, especially for ethnic subgroups, means that virtually every school will eventually be marked as a “failing” school. [Update: Not every school, but every school small enough so the standard error of estimate is large compared with the actual inter-school variability.]

So either the people who wrote NCLB had no idea what they were doing and just put together a bunch of stuff that sounded nice — which isn’t at all a far-fetched idea — or they were deliberately creating a system in which public education would be seen to fail, thus making the voucherization of public education inevitable.

[For myself, I wouldn’t mind a voucher system, if the vouchers were big enough. But I doubt they would be big enough, and I doubt there would be adequate differentials to induce competitive schools to take hard-to-educate kids.]

NCLB is a crock. Anyone seriously interested in making our schools work should stop pretending it isn’t, and start talking about how to do the job of performance measurement and incentive management right.

And that leaves me really wanting to know who’s paying for the services of DD&C.


A reader supplies part of the answer: DD&C stands for “Democracy, Data, and Communications.” The firm claims as clients Microsoft, Boeing, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Boeing, Ashland, BP, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and (the only obvious potential culprit for the NCLB campaign) the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Update Duhhhh… as a couple of readers noticed, all you have to do is follow the “about us” link on the astroturf page to find that the “No Child Left Behind Coalition” is project of the Business Roundtable, which used to be the more respectable, less Neanderthal version of the Chamber. I’m disappointed.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: