Congress tasked with school reform should start with No Child Left Behind

June 2, 2014 

Congress is taking up a large number of education bills this year. Unfortunately, the issue it is ignoring — as it has for years — is the one that most needs its attention: an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act. It would be an understatement to say that school reform is in a state of disarray because of this legislative inaction.

No Child Left Behind, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001, focused public attention on how poorly many students were doing in school. At that time, low-performing school districts often took it for granted that close to half their students would drop out.

But No Child Left Behind will surely rank as one of the most poorly constructed laws of its time. The remedies it laid out for low academic performance were narrowly drawn, unconscionably rigid and in many ways antithetical to the goal of improving education for the largest number of students.

The law ushered in an era of overreliance on test scores to measure educational quality. At the same time, it was lax about letting states set their own definitions of academic proficiency.

Now here we are in 2014, the year by which the law mandated that practically all students at all schools must be performing at grade level in their studies. With that impossible deadline to meet a goal that was never realistic, the Obama administration created a system of waivers from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, but only for states that agreed to meet certain conditions.

Overall, the rules for waivers were more sensible than those in the law, but they also reflected the administration’s biases.

In other words, right now the nation is operating under a hodgepodge of federal rules that seem to change state by state and depending on the political winds.

School reform shouldn’t be this hard. The U.S. government should get out of the business of micromanaging schools, using its authority instead to ensure that it is receiving good value for the dollars it spends on public education.

Los Angeles Times

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