How Obama Could Change 'No Child Left Behind'

The White House is rebranding and retooling a signature Bush policy

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The White House is seeking to overhaul No Child Left Behind, the massive education program that was a legislative hallmark of the Bush administration. NCLB grades schools on their students' performance on standardized tests, then has those schools compete for funding based on the test scores. Supporters compare it to the free market but critics contend it worsens some historical disadvantages. The reforms will still have to be approved by Congress.

  • What They're Proposing The New York Times's Sam Dillon explains, "a new accountability system would divide schools into more categories, offering recognition to those that are succeeding and providing large new amounts of money to help improve or close failing schools." The White House wants No Child Left Behind to more closely resemble its own education program, Race To The Top.
  • What Will and Won't Change The New Yorker's Carlo Rotella writes that reform will not be as sweeping as some liberals hope; but the name will change. "Still, the market-forces reformers have the most momentum. Many people who voted for Obama are finding out that on education, as on other issues, he is more of a centrist than they ever imagines." Education Secretary Arne Duncan relays to Rotella "a real concern that NCLB narrowed the curriculum. If all you test is math and reading, then that's all that will be taught." Rotella writes,
For the unions, No Child Left Behind exemplified everything that was wrong with the Bush approach--allowing states to lower their standards so that school appeared to be improving, for example, and making schools meet federal guidelines without providing additional resources. [...] Duncan hopes to preserve what he regards as NCLB's one important contribution--breaking down data to identify and address gaps between white and nonwhite students--but he says that he intends to drastically rewrite the law.
  • What 'Career Readiness' Means Huffington Post's Eric Tipler evaluates Obama's key education metric. "We need to make sure that 'career readiness' actually means 'readiness for a career,' not a back door to avoid educating the children we're currently failing to educate." Kids should learn for careers that are "viable in their local economy for the foreseeable future."
  • Could Be Health Care-Scale Political Disaster So warns the National Review's Chester Finn. "[R]eworking this monstrously complex statute is apt to prove almost as challenging as reforming health care -- and by the time Congress is done, it could come out just as badly." He says of Obama's plan to circumvent states by funding local school districts directly, "This is probably good for education reform but almost certainly bad for the 10th Amendment," which outlines states rights.
  • ...But GOP Is With Obama The Wall Street Journal's Neil King writes, "Obama's education policy is one of the few areas where the White House is now winning Republican support. 'This is one area where we share values and policy ideas,' Duncan said of his talks with Republican lawmakers and governors."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.