In 2002, Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush did that rarest of things: They enacted a major reform with true bipartisan support. In Congress, their No Child Left Behind Act received “No” votes from only 45 representatives and eight senators. The law required states to test their students on reading and math, and required individual schools to make “adequate yearly progress” on various measures. Schools that failed to make such progress would be required to take corrective action, and if that failed they would be restructured.
Almost everyone agreed that NCLB was the way forward. And now almost everyone agrees that the legislation has been a disaster. The Obama administration, demonstrating its usual enthusiasm for simply ignoring laws it doesn’t like, is giving states waivers from NCLB’s worst provisions. States, in turn, are taking advantage of the loosened rules in droves. And while Mitt Romney has a long track record of support for NCLB and praises it effusively in his campaign literature, even he sees a need to address its grave flaws. Congress has yet to act on NCLB reauthorization, which is due this year. NCLB, as it was originally passed, is on its deathbed.