The NCLB Wikipedia Article’s Sordid History

July 6, 2008 at 11:04 pm 2 comments

Wikiscanner is a tool that allows people to view Wikipedia edits by the specific organizations that made them.  For example, if you type in “Wal-Mart” you discover that someone at the corporation cares a lot about video games and, of course, Wal-Mart. You can also search for edits by the specific Wikipedia page. So when you type in “2006 Duke University Lacrosse Case” you find that 1025 edits have been made to the page, including 202 by Duke University.

Needless to say, this tool raises lots of questions, uncovers questionable edits, and provides hours of entertainment. In fact, Wired magazine compiles a list of salacious edits that can be accessed from Wikiscanner’s homepage.

Using Wikiscanner, I decided to dig a little deeper into the history of the Wikipedia article on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). As the NCLB Wikipedia page’s overview asserts, “the effectiveness and desirability of NCLB’s measures are hotly debated.” Given this, I thought I might find some controversial edits or at least some juicy debate on the article’s discussion page.

Here’s what I found: According to Wikiscanner, 648 edits have been made to the No Child Left Behind Wikipedia article. Surprisingly, the Wikiscanner results show no edits attributable to national education nonprofits, associations, think tanks, teacher unions, or similar organizations. The only federal government edit was made by the U.S. Department of Transportation and it was just a minor edit that changed the term “founding people” to “founding fathers.”

So who made all of the NCLB article’s edits? Wikiscanner’s results show a number of edits were made by universities and school districts. Interestingly, many of the school district edits seemed to break Wikipedia’s neutral point of view (NPOV) guidelines. As mentioned already, there is a lot of debate about NCLB’s measures; educators in particular have strong feelings about the law because they’re the ones who acutely experience its stipulations, sanctions, and overall impact on a daily basis. Those strong feelings seem to have funneled into questionable Wikipedia edits. The Wikipedia article includes a section called “claims made in criticism of the Act.” Currently the text in this section does a pretty good job of outlining common criticisms of the Act and attributing those criticisms to published quotes by education experts, reports, poll results, newspaper articles, etc. But the Wikipedia scanner shows that this section has historically been a place for those disgruntled with the law to air their complaints. For example, Bellevue School District in Issaquah, Washington made additions in August 2005 that stated:

No Child Left behind focuses on “Teaching to the Test” and putting high expectations on teachers without providing the support they need to meet those expectations. Some speculate that President G.W. Bush has pushed this through in an effort to topple the public education system.

It’s clear these edits were the editor’s personal opinion and were not backed up with citations from a reliable source. The Wikiscanner results reveal a number of similarly questionable edits of this type by other school districts.

Next, I navigated to the No Child Left Behind article’s discussion page. I was initially surprised to find a fairly short page of user discussion until I realized that several years’ worth of discussion had recently been archived in an attempt to clean up the page. On the current discussion page there is some intense, but very polite, debate about the law’s implications for students with disabilities. Other than that conversation, the page includes short and to-the-point exchanges on a variety of relatively mundane issues such as the pronunciation of NCLB, needed article updates, and an attempt to clean up an unwieldy list of external links.

In reviewing the article’s recent history, I stumbled across some vandalism. Someone changed the caption under an image of President Bush signing the NCLB Act to read that Bush was adopting a child to tend to his plantation farm. The vandalism was caught and corrected by another Wikipedia user within one minute.

You might think that uncovering vandalism and highly slanted edits like the ones described above would make me doubt the accuracy and usefulness of Wikipedia, but the very opposite happened. This exercise showed me that Wikipedia really does work because people care enough to fix mistakes and constantly make improvements. I really believe that as long as people keep caring, Wikipedia articles like the one about NCLB will keep improving.


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Quantity Versus Quality Blogging Across the Border

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cathy Grimes  |  July 24, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Bellevue School District is in th city of Bellevue, Washington. Issaquah, a city southeast of Bellevue in the Puget Sound region, has its own school district.

  • 2. Bart  |  July 25, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Thanks for the explanation. I didn’t realize there were so many people out there who care that much. That’s definitely a good thing (since I use Wikipedia quite a bit for both unimportant and more important queries).


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