Why Bush's pet education bill is flunking out.

Making government work better.
Aug. 28 2003 2:23 PM

Flunking Out

Bush's pet education bill is in serious trouble.

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At the same time, what few of the law's most ardent opponents realize is that the early demise of NCLB is unlikely to usher in a golden age of education reform. Many school districts would likely stagnate rather than make difficult and necessary changes. Mainstream education reform would be dead in the water. Federal education funding would level off. And renewed calls for more radical changes like vouchers and privatization—just what the law's opponents fear most—would likely increase.

No Child Left Behind can be saved. A letter grade or point system could help make better sense of its rating scheme and defuse the crisis atmosphere it now creates. Requiring districts to save a certain amount of space in the best-performing schools, or to give NCLB children a priority when it comes to getting into a magnet school, would help make the choice program more viable than it is now. Simply increasing public attention on other, somewhat less ideological parts of the law, like the call for more qualified teachers, could also make a big difference. Most of all, the Education Department needs to stick by its guns.

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But this is unlikely. Most lawmakers are loath to reopen laws midstream, and none of these relatively minor changes would satisfy hard-core opponents of the law anyway. Democrats seem to feel that they have an issue to take into the next campaign cycle. Republicans can always blame teachers unions and stubborn bureaucracies for any lack of progress. In the meantime, state and local officials and teachers have cover to resist implementing some of the law's toughest provisions. It's a grim mess, and little gets better. 

Alexander Russo writes about national education politics at This Week in Education and via @alexanderrusso.