No Child Left Behind


The landmark 2002 No Child Left Behind law was built on compelling principles: All children can learn. Every school should be held responsible for students’ academic growth.

NCLB, however, proved to be too inflexible. It set up even successful schools to be labeled as failures. So the Obama administration waived many onerous NCLB requirements for most states and … waited for Congress to pass a desperately needed update to make the law more practical and effective. Years passed.

This month, though, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a sweeping NCLB overhaul called Every Child Achieves, just days after the House narrowly passed its version, the Student Success Act.

Mission accomplished? No. More like mission averted.

Both House and Senate would wisely continue statewide testing regimens that break out results among students by race, income and special needs.

However, both bills rate a big red I for “incomplete” in one vital measure: accountability for schools, to assure that they’re actually helping students progress.

These bills are an excuse-maker’s dream: There isn’t any accountability.

Both bills would let state and local officials create their own performance standards and goals for schools. And if those schools fell short? Under these bills, the states wouldn’t have to do anything. And the federal government wouldn’t have the authority to challenge them to enforce those standards.

With such lax oversight, we imagine that every school in America will soon be rated … excellent!

We’ve long supported the principles of testing and accountability behind No Child Left Behind. We’ve also supported the Obama administration’s waivers of some NCLB requirements as a smart trade-off: In exchange for more flexibility, states pledged to undertake significant reforms to boost student achievement and teacher accountability. Illinois was freed under its waiver, for example, to focus more resources on its worst-performing schools.

But Illinois and those other states weren’t freed of federal oversight. Washington state, for instance, had its waiver yanked when it failed to follow through on promised reforms.

Significant differences in the House and Senate bills must now be reconciled in conference committee. An amendment offered by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and a handful of other Democrats would have required states to do something if a school consistently fails to meet state standards. Though it failed, 54-43, its modestly strong showing should give Democrats leverage to push for an accountability measure in conference, Deborah Veney of The Education Trust tells us.

Here’s more leverage: President Barack Obama has promised a veto if the final bill doesn’t include strong accountability measures. Good.

States have to set standards and be clear about the consequences of a school’s failure. State education officials can’t be let off the hook with a wink and a nod from the feds if students don’t learn.

NCLB created a furious backlash among educators, parents and politicians of both parties against overreaching federal intervention in schools. But the answer isn’t to revert back to pre-NCLB days, when schools could easily shrug off their failures to educate students.

This federal law ought to enshrine a principle that is taught to every schoolchild: Failure has consequences.

Chicago Tribune

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