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Education plan gets left behind
So far, No Child Left Behind seems to have teachers and schools struggling to catch up.

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RICHARD AMRHINE
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Date published: 4/20/2003

By RICHARD AMRHINE

PRESIDENTIAL candidate George W. Bush wanted a simple, fail-safe plan even he could articulate in a way that would attract voters who favor improving public education.

This is a smart strategy because very few Americans see no room for improvement in the nation's public schools. Those few would be good examples of why there is room for improvement in the nation's public schools.

The Bush campaign called its proposal the No Child Left Behind Act, and it served his purpose perfectly. It was a straightforward, far-reaching plan to bring accountability to public-school education, a plan easy to sum up and explain at almost any campaign stop.

As promised, NCLB legislation was submitted to Congress soon after Bush took office. In a rare show of bipartisanship, both chambers of Congress passed the new president's legislation with overwhelming majorities.

Here's what the law requires school systems to do:

Set standards right away for reading and math, and test students to ensure their progress.

Increase flexibility in how local school systems spend federal money.

Give parents the opportunity to choose the school their children will attend.

Put a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom.

All school systems must show progress toward these goals and eventually comply if they expect to receive U.S. education funds.

Such policy objectives are difficult to argue against. These lofty and expensive goals are needed if public education is to be fixed and American children are to compete in an ever more challenging, international environment.

The problem with campaign strategies, no matter how popular or how well-intentioned, is that they can prove difficult to translate into a real-world setting. And when the euphoria wears off, people start asking questions.

Two years, an economic downturn, and a war on terrorism later, the preferred answer from the administration regarding its education policies seems to be: "Here's some money. Just do it."

At a recent policy forum in Washington hosted by the National Center on Education and the Economy, and sponsored by a couple of think tanks on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the depth of the challenge facing the states came into perspective.


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