While meeting with various education leaders this week, I have heard a lot of talk — from school board members to teachers union officials — about a piece San Diego Unified Superintendent Carl Cohn penned last week in Education Week.

In it, the superintendent went on to vigorously criticize the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a piece of education reform legislation that is up for reauthorization this year. The law requires all students to become proficient in their core subjects by 2014, and penalizes schools that fail to get them there. Here’s what Cohn had to say:

I believe there is a place where no child is left behind, where all children achieve grade-level proficiency and there is no achievement gap. It is called heaven. As a former seminary student, I have a strong suspicion that it will not be achieved on earth for all of this nation’s children by the law’s target date of 2014 without divine intervention. It is even more unlikely to be achieved when this earth for many children living in our urban neighborhoods is far closer to hell. This is not a defeatist attitude or an excuse to avoid making the hard decisions necessary to address educational inequities. It is a fact.

He went on to offer veiled criticism at his predecessor as the district’s head, Alan Bersin, the current chair of the San Diego County Airport Authority Board:

Two years ago, I came out of retirement to become the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District in California. I inherited a district in which the driving philosophy over the previous six years had, similarly, been to attack the credibility of any educator who spoke out against a top-down education reform model. These attacks allowed those in charge to portray themselves as the defenders of children, to justify any means to promote their model of improving student achievement, and to view their critics through the same apocalyptic lens of good and evil that has characterized many of our recent national debates.


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