On the day that President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in early 2002, he flew to a high school in Hamilton, Ohio, the home district of Representative John A. Boehner, a leading Republican supporter of the bill. Later that afternoon, the president appeared in Boston and praised the bill’s Democratic sponsor in the Senate, Edward M. Kennedy.
Nearly a dozen years later, that bipartisanship spirit in federal education policy has evaporated.
The House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill aimed at greatly narrowing the federal role in public education that was expanded under No Child Left Behind. No Democrat voted for the bill, called the Student Success Act, and the Obama administration has threatened to veto it. During the floor debate last week in the House, Representative George Miller of California, the main Democratic supporter of the Bush-era law, labeled the bill the “Letting Students Down Act.”
The acrimony partly reflects the sharp partisanship in Washington these days. But well beyond the Beltway, the debate about education has become far more polarized in the past decade. Strange partnerships have emerged on both sides, as anxiety has grown over the lackluster performance of American students compared with children in other countries.