A New No Child Left Behind?

Initially one of the bipartisan hallmarks of George W. Bush's presidency, 2001's No Child Left Behind bill (officially the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) has come to be synonymous with the previous decade's failings in education reform. Now, President Barack Obama has called for an overhaul of the much-maligned policy. What are Obama's new plans for the bill, and when does he want this done?

By Eric Garneau


Education reform has been one of the major talking points of the Obama administration. As far back as his 2008 campaign, President Obama has shown support for the goals of his predecessor's No Child Left Behind legislation, but like many he's criticized its methods. During a recent visit to an Arlington, VA elementary school, the President laid out some general plans to correct the law, complete with a timetable in which some have found fault.

Obama's basic outline addresses problems with the bill raised on both sides of the political divide. Republicans have long taken issue with the amount of power it grants to the federal government, since education was previously a matter left mostly up to individual states. Democrats, on the other hand, have pushed for more funding to be given to the most troubled schools, especially in light of a recent Republican resurgence in the House of Representatives which has cut off funding for some of the Obama administration's reform plans.

Under Obama's stewardship, No Child Left Behind seeks a compromise between the left and right. For instance, he intends for state and local governments to assume more control over the education offered in their districts. Despite a federal budget crisis, he also plans to put sufficient funding into schooling nationwide. 'I'm determined to cut our deficits, but I refuse to do it by telling students here, who are so full of promise, that we're not willing to invest in your future,' he said.

school hallway

In addition, Obama hopes to take a sharper look at the quality of standardized tests. Under President Bush, those tests became the ruler by which academic performance was measured, leading to a pass/fail judgment of schools that many educators find unfair. Obama also intends to increase performance standards for both students and educators. For the latter, that includes making moves towards incentive-based compensation, a highly controversial decision in the eyes of many teachers' unions.

In his school address, President Obama called on Congress to complete its No Child Left Behind reform by September of this year, when most of the country's children will return to school. According to Obama, lawmakers must 'seize this education moment' so 'every child in the country (can) head back to school in the fall knowing that their education is America's priority.'

Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House education committee, has responded mostly positively to the Obama administration's work on education reform and has fostered relationships with Democrats as well as other Republicans on his committee. Kline agrees with Obama on the importance of fixing the United States' 'broken' education system through 'targeted, fiscally responsible reforms.' However, he also suggests that Obama's September 2011 deadline is unrealistic, noting 'we cannot allow an arbitrary timeline to undermine quality reforms.'

Read about some of last year's major government players in education here.

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