GOP revolt threatens Bush’s No Child Left Behind program

Five years after President Bush got a Republican-led Congress to pass a landmark law that forces schools to give students more tests, his party is leading a revolt.

When Congress signed off on the No Child Left Behind legislation in December 2001, one Republican, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, said it represented a new era that would benefit students across the country, and he saluted Bush’s leadership. Now Brownback, who’s seeking the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, would be happy if states could just opt out of the federal testing mandates.

Ditto for Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, the House’s second-ranking Republican. After co-sponsoring the legislation, the minority whip now says he regrets voting for it.

Is No Child Left Behind about to get left behind? While no one is predicting its immediate demise, discontent is growing on Capitol Hill.

So far, 66 Republicans — 59 in the House and seven in the Senate — have signed on to The A-Plus Act, legislation that would allow states to sidestep the yearly tests.

Many Democrats want to alter the testing requirements, giving states more leeway in how they measure progress, especially for students with disabilities.

Even strong advocates of the law acknowledge that at least some tweaks — and more money for schools — will be required before Congress can renew it this year.

The A-Plus Act is the latest in a string of challenges to No Child Left Behind:

  • The state of Connecticut sued the federal government two years ago, saying Congress had failed to provide enough financial support to implement the law.
  • The states of Virginia and Arizona have questioned rules dealing with the testing of students with limited English skills.
  • Utah has tussled with the Department of Education over a requirement that every teacher have the equivalent of a college degree in the subject that he or she teaches.

In California, education officials embrace the act’s requirements for annual testing — the state has had an annual testing program in place since before No Child Left Behind took effect — but are fighting other aspects of the law. The biggest objection concerns the clash between how California determines whether a school is doing well and how the federal government defines success under No Child Left Behind. The state gives schools a thumbs-up if student test scores improve from one year to the next. But No Child Left Behind requires that all schools — and all ethnic groups of students within each school — meet specific performance targets each year. That’s created a confusing situation for many schools: They can be labeled a success by the state and a failure by the federal law.

State schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell — a Democrat — has been lobbying for changes to the law that would give schools credit for improving scores, even if they don’t meet the absolute targets now in place.

“It’s all stick and no carrot,” said O’Connell’s deputy superintendent, Rick Miller. “It doesn’t offer us ways to make schools better, just to punish them.”

But some California educators say the two systems complement each other. Katie Curry, principal of Tahoe Elementary School in Sacramento, said the federal law has helped her school improve.

“The purpose behind No Child Left Behind — to make sure we identify achievement of all students — is what has been important and a good change for what we do,” Curry said. “It’s made us focus on all students, instead of generalities.”

Hers is just the kind of school the law is intended to help: three-quarters of Tahoe Elementary students are nonwhite and 100 percent of them receive subsidized lunch.

In 2001, critics of No Child Left Behind feared that the law would give Washington too much power over local schools. Much of that suspicion came from conservative Republicans, who nevertheless bowed to the popular first-term president after he made education an issue in his 2000 campaign.

Bush prevailed by arguing that federally mandated tests would put a spotlight on failing schools and pressure them to improve. Since then, the president’s popularity has plummeted while teachers and school officials have stepped up their criticism of the law.

Some of the strongest backing for the law on Capitol Hill now comes from Democrats, who charge that Republicans want to abandon the testing requirements while still giving federal money to schools.

Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the Republican plan was an attempt “to turn back the clock on reform.” In 2001, he worked closely with the Bush administration to craft the law. He said it had become “a national commitment” and that it would be wrong to abandon it.


(Scripps-McClatchy Washington Bureau’s Rob Hotakainen can be reached at Sacramento Bee staff writer Laurel Rosenhall also contributed to this story.)


  1. Sandy Price

    Rid the government of the “Department of Education” and hand it back to the States. Let the Governors look for a new academic standard. Do we elect Governors who are smart enough to do this?

    Don’t we elect our Boards of Education in America? Is there still a PTA somewhere around these days?

    Big Daddy has no interest in our children except to send them to war. They are taught from birth to never question authority…..and so it goes.

  2. Ladywolf55

    Getting rid of the Dept of Education would be the best thing we could do for the schools. I don’t like public schools or mandatory attendance laws, period. Parents should be able and responsible to teach their offspring. If they wish to form private schools for their children, then so be it. But manadatory schooling laws, making parents criminals if their children aren’t in school should be abolished. It’s just another big brother law made to make the government rich.

    Impush Beach!

  3. Ted Remington

    Though the Republicans have tried very hard to keep it quiet, the real story about this inherently stupid law is quite interesting.

    Though Dumbya grew up in the lap of luxury, he was given no slack at school. In fact, he was subjected to corporal punishment so frequently that the act itself became known as beating around the Bush. As a young man Bush vowed that he would become President for the sole purpose of putting a stop to this practice.

    Weeks after he entered the White House he turned to Karl Rove and told him that he wanted to ensure that corporal punishment was reduced by one half. Rove turned the project over to one of his minions, who set about to ensure that schoolchildren could only be beaten on the right buttock (yet another example of how literal some of the Bushies are.)

    The initiative was then given to an intern, who typed up a proposal for the Congress; unfortunately he made a serious typographical error in the proposal and instead of asking for legislation about No Child’s Left Behind he sent a proposal for No Child Left Behind. And that little s is still running around the White House causing all kinds of problems.


  4. JudyB

    It seems that Bush received an expensive education resulting in him having learned nothing and yet managed to be appointed President of the USA. Bush “the wonder child” having the nerve to even suggest “No Child Left Behind” in the first place was a sick joke with his poor record of educating Texans..not to mention his own knowledge garnered from his education. The states deserve the right to take responsibility for their students educations and take it out of the hands of the Feds.

  5. Wayne K Dolik

    Heres an interesting tid-bit that I learned from a retired school Teacher about No Childs Behind Left. I sat with this Teacher on a plane ride from Minn. To Ca. recently.

    The teacher went on to tell me the problems Teachers were having with the program. The bottom line was that tenured Teachers were not accepting the slower learning students because they affected the overall scores of the class. Instead, the slow learners were given to the un-tenured Teachers.

    Now if this was a real program designed to help kids, wouldn’t you think it would help the disabled and slow learners?

  6. Sandy Price

    Been around here a long time? I’ve laughed myself silly this afternoon. I love the story! Jon Steward would love this. Too bad Imus is gone!

  7. SEAL

    I’m not going to go into all the details and reasons why, but the effect of “no child left behind” is to exclude from education any child that will cause a negative impact on the schools scores which in turn reduces the amount of money the school receives. The principals have been very creative in finding ways to get “learning impaired” students off the books.

    This has resulted in a greatly increased drop out rate. The last few years, in my state, 40% of students failed to graduate high school. That is an overall stat. Most drop out in the 9th or 10th grade. The reality is that “no child left behind” is causing almost half of the children in my state to be left behind. My understanding is that this condition is common in most states across the country.

    It’s the money, stupid.

  8. WWLBadger

    Be Warned, I brought my soapbox to this one.

    As the nation’s legislators rush to continue to tell me and my fellow teachers how to do our jobs (yes, I am a licensed, practicing Special Education Teacher in a public school.), could someone please supply the definitive answer to a few questions?

    What exactly is education? Is it simply the accumulation of knowledge, the application of said knowledge? At what level in this “adequate?” Should the level be the same for everyone?

    Assuming someone gets everyone to agree on the above, Is “adequate” education the same in New Hampshire as it is in California? How about Texas or New Mexico? Do these standards apply to our territories, such as the Virgin Islands? Most critically, WHY? Why are the standards the same or different?

    Is an adequate education the same for someone who wants to be a contractor, or sanitation worker, the same as a nuclear engineer? Why or Why Not?

    Consider this a little pop quiz from the classroom of life. As we debate this issue, some things don’t seem to quite make the light. We started this track over the nation wide panic that “American students were lagging behind in their test scores as compared with other countries.” What was not brought out was that we test, to the best of our ability, 100% of every age level. Other countries test only those students who have been permitted to go on to the upper grades. This can mean the only 40-60% of students in those countries gets tested. Before some other country tells me my students are not a gifted as theirs, I challenge them to meet OUR testing requirements; let them test 100% of their age levels and then let’s see how scores stack up. In addition, if we are losing ground so badly, why is it the every major innovation in science and engineering has come out of the US? I’m not saying there’s no room for improvement, the day I don’t find some way to improve how I teach my students is the day I need to leave teaching. However, lets get some things straight here.

    Feel free to administer the “quiz” to the bureaucrat of your choice. Remind them that this is a pass/fail quiz, and they will be graded by the children of their constituents.