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Back to October Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 273 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS OCTOBER 2008

Candidates Leave 'No Child' Act Behind on the Campaign Trail
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It's overdue for reauthorization, faces an impossible 2011 deadline of universal proficiency, and is the most significant feature of the federal government's involvement in education. It's the No Child Left Behind Act; and almost no one is talking about it as the November 4 election draws near. Why not?

NCLB greatly increased federal funding and federal accountability for schools when it passed with broad bipartisan support in 2001. Since then, as the law's weaknesses have come to light, NCLB has become a subject for debate between Republicans and Democrats and within each party. The law's scheduled 2007 reauthorization failed, and isn't expected to happen until after the next president takes office.

At both party conventions, candidates avoided mentioning the law by name. They have only rarely named it during other campaign stops; and when they do, they affirm that the law needs work, without detailing exactly how they plan to fix it. The law is currently unpopular and controversial in both parties. Whenever Congress does finally reauthorize it, bipartisan compromise will probably leave everybody somewhat disappointed. The candidates may be avoiding more detailed proposals because they know that those proposals aren't big winners for either party.

Republicans are divided over the federal government's involvement in education. While most believe that greater accountability can improve schools — a key NCLB tenet — they disagree over who should be holding schools accountable. Traditionally, Republicans have favored local control of schools. A sizeable contingent still believes that power over education belongs among those "reserved to the states" by the Tenth Amendment.

That contingent has spoken up more loudly over the years since NCLB's passage. In March, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) introduced a bill that would return the power to craft their own accountability systems to the states. About 70 House Republicans are co-sponsors. A similar bill in the Senate, by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), attracted seven co-sponsors.

Hoekstra, who voted against NCLB, said that many of those who voted for it "followed the president's proposals . . . blindly, and they forgot what works." (Education Week, 9-10-08) Hoekstra believes that Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006 partly because "NCLB sent [voters] a totally different message" from the traditional GOP belief in local control, especially of education. Some analysts say that no matter who takes office in January, more Republicans in both houses are likely to join those questioning federal involvement in schools after Pres. Bush leaves office.

John McCain voted for NCLB, but has not been deeply involved in hammering out the law's particulars. Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, said that McCain doesn't belong in either camp on NCLB; in fact, he "has his own camp." While he will support continued federal funds and accountability, Allen believes he "has a lighter touch in terms of Washington carrot and stick." (Education Week, 9-3-08)

Barack Obama has criticized NCLB, but does not dispute the core principle of holding schools accountable to the federal government for student achievement. Obama has identified two primary ways he would attempt to change the law if elected. He would like to change how students' academic performance is assessed, so that "our kids . . . become more than just good test takers." He has not proposed any specific ways to broaden assessments, however. Secondly, Obama pledges to "fully fund" NCLB, by spending the full amount the law makes possible, nearly $40 billion a year.


 
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