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Learning at its Best

New York Times: Invitation to a Dialogue: A Student’s Call to Arms

The following is an invitation to dialogue in the New York Times on education. I would love if you submit a letter to the editor. It is preferred by Wednesday afternoon. Thank you! 

This appeared in the New York Times: Invitation to a Dialogue: A Student’s Call to Arms 

When President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law, few would have predicted that the next decade of education policy would unfold into a disaster of epic proportions. The law was based on a flawed concept of a “good education” — high scores on standardized tests.

As a result, the curriculum was narrowed, shaving instruction time in the arts, music, science and history. Schools were transformed into test-preparation factories with a stress on drill, kill, bubble-fill methods. And ruthless accountability measures were enacted, with bribes and threats at their core. It’s safe to say that the law has failed miserably.

Yet when President Obama came into office, he enacted Race to the Top, a $4.35 billion competition that dished out money to states that adopted the president’s policies. In effect, it was No Child Left Behind on steroids. The pressure to garner high test scores has gone haywire, the number of cheating scandals has mushroomed and the teaching profession has been dehumanized. Enough is enough.

In this election cycle, both Mitt Romney and President Obama have largely ducked the issue. Instead of proposing a bold, game-changing plan to transform schools for the 21st century, they remain stubbornly fixed on the status quo. We cannot afford to lose yet another decade of precious time and resources. Reforms are not enough; only a revolution will suffice.

As a student, I want to be taught how to think and create and explore. I’m not a number in a spreadsheet; I’m a creative and motivated human being. I want my teachers to be paid well, given autonomy and treated like professionals. I want my school to be adequately funded. Is that too much to ask?

If either candidate called for the repeal of No Child Left Behind and the abolition of Race to the Top, and pushed schools to allow students to become the captains of their learning, he would find millions of teachers, parents and young people at his side.

Syosset, N.Y., Oct. 8, 2012

The writer is a high school senior and the author of the book “One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School.”

Editors’ Note: We invite readers to respond by Thursday for the Sunday Dialogue. We plan to publish responses and Mr. Goyal’s rejoinder in the Sunday Review.

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About Nikhil Goyal

Nominated for the U.S. Secretary of Education by Diane Ravitch and lauded as an “emerging voice of his generation,” at age 17, Nikhil Goyal is the author of One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School by the Alternative Education Resource Organization. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox and Friends, Fox Business: Varney & Co., NBC Nightly News, and Huffington Post. Nikhil has spoken to thousands at conferences and TEDx events around the world from Qatar to Spain and has guest lectured at Baruch College in New York. He is leading a Learning Revolution movement to transform the American school system. A senior at Syosset High School, Nikhil lives with his family in Woodbury, New York. To contact, email him at ngoyal2013 at


5 thoughts on “New York Times: Invitation to a Dialogue: A Student’s Call to Arms

  1. Nikhil, you don’t need to be “taught” how to think, create and explore. By nature, that is what the human being does…until interrupted by well-meaning establishment whose positions depend on keeping students as receptors, instead of solutionaries. You are already advocating beyond your years. Keep talking to your peers, take your message all the way to the top and never give up. It is one person at a time who keeps the momentum going forward. Kudos to you!

    Posted by Sandy | October 10, 2012, 1:28 am
  2. Kudos Nikhil! This is what we are struggling with in India with the top Univs becoming nothing but test score paranoids. Typically an IIT entrant in the first year realizes how skewed his instruction was in getting in to the institution, Just get the IIT JEE right! So we have generations of engineers who would rather not be engineers just pushed into it due to competition of high scores in testes

    Posted by aditya | October 10, 2012, 1:58 am
  3. I completely agree with you, when I began teaching as a second career teacher with a Masters of Arts in Education it was all about inquiry and project-based teaching with heads and hands on learning. That was the mid-1980s, as I continued to follow the path of student-centered learning with literacy and math skills embedded conceptually; Imwas loving my classroom, the students, parents, and my career.

    Late in the 1990s when I had totally hit my stride by amassing another 45 graduate credit hours beyond my Master’s, I was learning about brain compatible learning and designing whole year curriculum around a large concept such as “Interdependence” where all subjects were integrated. This was elementary school outside of Chicago and my students and I loved to come to school where I facilitated, we all learned together, and great things were happening.

    I left due to the pressure to conform to rigid, narrow curriculum and moved to where I could get a
    Ph.D in a Research One university in Curriculum and Instruction. Now I am teaching interns how to teach and loving it, although there are far too many schools that they student teach in that are not embracing rich, deep curriculum; some are and it is a pleasure to be in these Centers for Inquiry and persuade young teachers that they can teach like this and have good test scores.

    We need to think long and hard about who we are educating and for what purposes…ALL CHILDREN DESERVE A RICH, DEEP CURRICULUM.

    Lonni Gill, Ph.D.

    Posted by Lonni Gill, Ph.D. | October 10, 2012, 2:48 pm
  4. Nikhil. Thinking is all about challenging the known and embracing the unknown. And a master’s tool, as you have found, is paradox. So don’t ever let go of the strange contrast between the good intentions of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and their disastrous consequences. Here’s some wisdom on that…

    Posted by geoffreymh | October 12, 2012, 2:22 am
  5. The final keynote at the 2012 International Society forTechnology in Education (ISTE) conference, given by Yong Zhao Trim, was especially meaningful to me – an international school educator living in China who has a background in Oregon public education.

    I’ve watched many changes unfold over the past eleven years – both in the United States and China. Yong Zhao Trim’s keynote sums up much of what I have observed: Federal laws and other US initiatives aspire to make US students perform as well as Chinese students on standardized tests. Chinese families are clambering to give their students an American education with the hopes that they might become the next Steve Jobs.

    Students should be very concerned.


    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | October 12, 2012, 11:21 pm

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