Bipartisan Rewrite of Education Law Sparks Debate

Judy Hartnett's picture
Thursday, November 10, 2011

In a divided Washington, there's widespread agreement that the sweeping No Child Left Behind education law needs fixing. But finding a fix hasn't been easy.

Civil and disability rights groups have banded together with an unlikely ally, the business-friendly U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to oppose a bipartisan update to the law that has been approved by a Senate committee. They say the bill is weak on accountability. The administration also dislikes it for many of the same reasons.

On the other side, many conservatives say the bill gives the federal government too much control. Even some of the Republicans who voted it out of committee, such as Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former U.S. education secretary, cite the same concerns.

It hasn't always been this way. The law, which was championed by President George W. Bush, was passed in 2002 with widespread bipartisan support. Focused primarily on helping poor and minority children, it required annual testing of students. Schools that don't meet requirements for two years or longer face consequences that become increasingly tough — from having to transport children to higher performing schools and offering tutoring to replacing staff.

But critics said teachers started teaching to the tests, that there was little flexibility for states and local districts to design systems that might work better and that the requirements were too stringent. They also said it was unrealistic to expect every child to perform on grade level in reading and math by 2014, as required by the law.

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