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The federal government is reconsidering the controversial education bill No Child Left Behind this week. What it will mean for your child is unclear at this point.
But there is consensus across the country and across party lines that there is reason to be critical and that it's time to revise the program. And it is likely that states will have more say in children's education again after more than a decade of deep federal involvement.
What Went Wrong
No Child Left Behind was signed by George W. Bush in 2002, and was intended to ensure that students across the country had the skills to succeed after high school, whatever their socioeconomic background. States received federal funds that were conditioned on certain results in the program and in return were required to test students annually and report the results.
Sounds simple enough but it wasn't. The program was widely criticized for leaving behind the schools and children who most needed help. Failing schools lost funds and children who did poorly were indeed kept back so as not to mar school results.
Even schools that succeeded in meeting the federal standards had cause to complain. Educators and administrators argued that their focus had shifted to teaching kids for the test, rather than providing an education and working on the skills that the exam was testing. States also resisted the federal intrusion on education, especially in places that used much more complex criteria for assessing school performance than just standardized test results.
What Will Be Done
After years of debate and states pushing back, the revised bill proposes more state autonomy while maintaining a federal watch on their lowest performing schools. States will have to draft plans to rehabilitate their worst performing schools and students. In return, the federal grant process will be simplified.
The bill would give states more funding flexibility by consolidating categorical grants for programs like physical education and Advanced Placement classes, the Wall Street Journal reports. "The bill isn't the complete devolution of [federal] power that conservatives would prefer, but it would help state reformers who want to do better," according to the newspaper.
In other words, the revised education bill that is on the table and up for discussion this week is yet another compromise. It is an effort to bridge the gap between conservatives and liberals, federalists and those who believe in state rights, and -- hopefully -- an important refinement to a program intended to help the nation's struggling children and schools but that many say has only alienated them.