No Child Left Behind law slips away quietly


House Speaker Paul Ryan signs legislation Wednesday rewriting the landmark No Child Left Behind education law.
House Speaker Paul Ryan signs legislation Wednesday rewriting the landmark No Child Left Behind education law. AP

The No Child Left Behind Act, President George W. Bush’s signature education initiative overwhelmingly approved in bipartisan congressional votes in 2001, passed away Wednesday after a long illness.

Its replacement, after overwhelming, bipartisan congressional votes, is the Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign on Thursday.

Any day this Congress approves major legislation through bipartisan compromise is a red-letter day.

The Every Student Succeeds Act has its detractors and its worrisome points, and it would be a mistake to see it as an education panacea.

Still, this is real action. No Child Left Behind actually expired in 2007, and it has stayed in effect only because Congress has been unable to agree on its replacement until now.

The Obama administration has cobbled together its education program through a cumbersome system of state waivers to NCLB requirements, along with incentives such as 2009’s Race to the Top and its controversial Common Core curriculum.

Early this year, with 43 states including Texas under NCLB waivers to come up with their own education programs, Senate Republican and Democratic leaders began serious work on a federal education compromise.

The primary result? States and local school districts have more freedom to devise and adopt educational programs.

They still must administer annual standardized tests in reading and math for grades 3-8 and once in high school. They’ll have to break down the results by student group and report them to the feds.

They must act on schools that are chronic failures, but they’ll decide for themselves what action to take.

Freedom from federal intervention is what local and state officials in Texas have sought. The flip side of that is the responsibility to deliver quality educational opportunity to every student.

In Texas, resting responsibility in Austin and in locally elected school boards, elected bodies close to home, is a good thing. Federal pushing never worked well here, anyway.

Tucked away in the 1,059-page Every Student Succeeds Act are parts that have raised concerns. They include allowing wealthy investors to profit from education investments, a requirement that states fund “equitable services” for students in private and religious schools, and steering teacher preparation funding to non-traditional, non-university programs.

No doubt, other issues will show up. But NCLB reached a point where almost anything else is progress.