The House of Representatives last week passed a significant rewrite of No Child Left Behind, the education law approved with much fanfare during the George W. Bush administration. The bill – which passed by a 221-207 margin, with all Democrats and 12 Republicans voting no – represents the first major education effort to move in Congress in more than a decade.
Technically, No Child Left Behind expired in 2007, but Congress has been unable to agree on an update. In the meantime, the White House has been granting waivers to states, allowing them to avoid some of the law's more onerous provisions in exchange for adopting certain education reforms that the administration prefers.
Education Week's Alyson Klein described the GOP's bill – championed by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. – as "almost a complete U-turn, policy-wise, from the existing federal school accountability law." While No Child Left Behind's oft-reviled standardized testing schedule will remain in place, states would set their own academic standards and decide individually how to deal with underperforming schools.
"We must support policies that encourage more local decision-making and allow these knowledgeable school leaders and administrators to do what they do best: educate America's children," Kline said. However, the bill faces a very uncertain political future, as the Obama administration has threatened a veto and the Senate has its own version of a No Child Left Behind rewrite.
Business groups have also allied with teachers' unions to voice discontent with the House bill. "America's K-12 education system must ensure all high school graduates are ready for college or workforce training and employment," said John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, a major business lobbying organization. "The bill does not go far enough to ensure accountability." Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, added: "While H.R. 5 contains some positive provisions, as a whole it erodes the historical federal role in public education – to be an enforcer of equity of opportunities, tools and resources so that we can level the playing field."
So should the Senate pass the House's No Child Left Behind rewrite? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Anne Hyslop Policy Analyst with the New America Foundation's Education Policy Program
George Miller Democratic Representative from California
Mike McShane Research Fellow in Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute
Randi Weingarten President of the American Federation of Teachers