What’s Next for No Child Left Behind?

In case you’re wondering what’s next for the Bush-Kennedy legislation known as No Child Left Behind, National Journal had a piece last month that lays out some possibilities. They include doing away with the requirement of 100 percent student proficiency by 2014 and instead emphasizing student growth.

If there is to be a federal role in education–and that’s a disputable statement–it’s better to emphasize student growth than a universal (utopian) requirement for proficiency, which various groups have documented, has given states incentives to dumb down their standards so as to game the system. Presumably it will still be possible to dumb down standards, but with the law emphasizing something short of universal proficiency, the incentive won’t be as strong.

If the federal government is in fact going to be involved in education, it should award money on a competitive basis, as it has started to do with the “Race to the Top” funds. This of course assumes that it provides incentives for the best kind of behavior, which–this being politics–isn’t always going to happen.

NCLB ran into trouble both for its unrealistic goals (which made everyone say “Oh, come on!”) and for threatening, in the extreme, to dissolve schools (arguably, a position inconsistent with federalism).

One useful thing the federal government could do, if it is to be involved, is to give grants (for supplemental educational services or partial payment for private school tuition) to students attending failing schools, or who are themselves behind state standards. Doing so removes the “nuclear option” from over the heads of schools. If the money is limited just to supplemental services (tutoring) rather than private school tuition, it also removes any incentive that schools face to dumb-down standards. If a student receives money for tutoring, that fact does nothing to “punish” a school by enabling the student to leave entirely.

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