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WSJ: No Child Left Behind’s Successor

After nearly a year of legislative work, Congress is poised to replace No Child Left Behind and improve K-12 education. Both the House and Senate passed separate proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this summer, and now a bicameral conference committee has put forward a final proposal that will reduce the federal role in education, restore local control, and empower parents. The Wall Street Journal writes today that the conference agreement may not be perfect, but it would “represent the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.”

Review & Outlook: No Child Left Behind’s Successor

Conservative reformers have had major successes, notably on welfare in 1996. But when a reform doesn’t turn out as hoped, they need to adapt. A case in point is No Child Left Behind, which the GOP Congress is now preparing to leave behind.

This week the House plans to debate the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which lapsed in 2007 and needs revision. A bipartisan compromise has emerged from the Senate and House that isn’t perfect but would represent the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century. It’s far better than the status quo that would continue if nothing passes.

No Child Left Behind, signed by George W. Bush in 2002, was the product of an imperfect union between Republicans who wanted more school accountability and Democrats who wanted more spending. In return for more federal funds, states were required to test students annually and report the results. One hundred percent of students were supposed to rate proficient by 2014, and failing schools were required to restructure under federal guidelines.

Yet few of the law’s goals have been achieved. Some states dumbed down standards so more students would pass the tests. Then the Obama Administration issued blanket waivers from the law’s mandates—but only if states adopted Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s prescriptions for teacher evaluations and common academic standards.

Washington’s heavy hand has produced a political backlash that crosses ideological lines, uniting teachers unions who want less accountability with Republicans who want less federal control. The ESEA compromise tries to accommodate this revolt by balancing federalism and accountability.

Gone are No Child Left Behind’s proficiency benchmarks and mandated federal interventions. The Education Department wouldn’t be able to prescribe accountability systems and standards.

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