While President George W. Bush and congressional Democrats marked the sixth anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), it seemed unlikely the measure would be reauthorized in 2008.
Appearing at Horace Greeley Elementary School in Chicago in January, Bush urged Congress to act on reauthorization this year. He said the law’s testing and accountability requirements had encouraged schools such as Horace Greeley Elementary to improve their performance.
The president also offered a firm warning to Capitol Hill.
“If Congress passes a bill that weakens the accountability system in the No Child Left Behind Act, I will strongly oppose it and veto it,” Bush said.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) marked the anniversary by writing an op-ed for The Washington Post on “How to Fix No Child.” Kennedy wrote in favor of several changes, including more mentoring and training programs for teachers, programs to address the dropout crisis, and sharp funding increases.
Noticeably absent in Kennedy’s commentary was a pledge to reauthorize the law in 2008. At press time, Kennedy, who serves as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, had yet to introduce legislation to reauthorize the program.
Some education experts are doubtful about the prospects for reauthorization.
“There’s very little chance that NCLB will be reauthorized this year,” said Neal McCluskey, a federal policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom in Washington, DC. “There’s loads of opposition to the law in both parties, and no presidential candidate wants to deal with a reauthorization fight during the campaign.
“As much as President Bush might want NCLB reauthorized to shore up his legacy, it’s going to be the next administration’s problem,” McCluskey continued.
The Bush administration is expected to take steps to reform the law even if proposals do not move forward in Congress. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has pledged to use her executive authority to reform NCLB.
Speaking at the National Press Club on January 10, Spellings outlined plans to expand the use of growth-model testing systems, allow states to define different consequences under NCLB’s accountability sanctions for schools where only a small sub-population of students miss state testing benchmarks, and create new requirements for states to track graduation rates.
“Congress has had over a year to consider these reforms, but students and teachers need help now. So if Congress doesn’t produce a strong bill quickly, I will move forward,” Spellings told the audience. “As I’ve done since taking office, I will partner with states and districts to support innovation.”
‘Expensive, Bureaucratic Demands’
McCluskey is skeptical the proposed changes would improve the law.
“Spellings might offer flexibility through waivers and regulation changes, but they will do little good,” McCluskey said. “In the end, NCLB will still impose expensive, bureaucratic demands on states while giving them every incentive to set standards as low as possible.
“Loosening a few screws on the Titanic wouldn’t have kept it afloat, and a little more flexibility won’t help NCLB,” McCluskey said.
Dan Lips ([email protected]) is an education analyst at The Heritage Foundation, a free-market research group in Washington, DC.