Over the past year, we’ve heard from a lot of people that were thrilled that No Child Left Behind hadn’t been reauthorized. Folks who felt it was an unfunded mandate. Those who felt it overemphasized high-stakes testing. Those who feared it federalized education, removing the local control we’ve long depended on. And those who questioned particular legislative components, whether it be special ed provisions, lack of attention on rural schools, highly qualified teacher language, over-emphasis on scientifically based research, etc. Take your pick. NCLB opponents have had a virtual Chinese menu of reasons to be glad that reauthorization efforts have stalled over the last two years.
But it was surprising to hear that EdSec Margaret Spellings shared in the joy of a stalled NCLB. In remarks reported in Education Week’s Campaign K-12 blog, Spellings said she was “glad” the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was not reauthorized last year, due in large part to her view of the Miller/McKeon draft that was put forward early in the process. Even more interesting, she believes the delay in reauthorization has allowed NCLB supporters to rally the troops and strengthen our resolve to build a law around “accountability.”
To a degree, Eduflack can understand where Spellings is coming from. Congressman Miller was advocating some real changes to the law, including giving states and localities the flexibility of pursuing their own assessments. Miller and McKeon did not share the view that NCLB was 99.99% good. In reflecting on their goals when passing the law in the first place in 2002, the Democrat and Republican came together on a trial draft designed to strengthen the law and improve those areas where implementation has clearly fallen short.
I can also appreciate the need to take the time to do it right, ensuring a reauthorization effort is focused on the right issues — such as accountability. But can we forget that the sand is quickly leaving the hourglass? In March of 2007, one may have been “glad” that reauthorization didn’t move forward. But this is now September 2008. Those 18 months mean one thing and one thing only — NCLB has met its end. We have been rallying the troops around accountability issues, but we’re about to disband the battalions.
Regardless of who wins the White House and who holds what majorities in the Congress, NCLB will soon cease to exist. New decisionmakers will reauthorize ESEA their way. Hopefully, accountability will remain a core tenet. Maybe national standards will be moved front and center, as it should. And if the presidential conventions are any indication, issues like teacher performance pay, school choice, and the achievement gap are likely to play prominent roles as well, as they deserve. But NCLB is over.
Sure, NCLB may face the same fate as the Higher Education Act — a protracted reauthorization effort that takes five or more years to resolve. The law may simply be level-funded year-on-year as the Congress tends to other priorities. But change is coming, whether it be in 2009, 2010, or even further into the future.
For years, Eduflack has talked about how NCLB was one of those legacy pieces for this Administration. As the final grains of sand fall, it is clear that that legacy is going to be one, first and foremost, of missed opportunities. The goals and intentions of NCLB remain strong, and should remain the guiding principles we follow, both today and into the future. But we’re lacking on the action. We let threats and ultimatums win out over improvements and innovation. And that’s a cryin’ shame.