Bush Praises Results of 'No Child' Law President Cites Increased School Accountability, 'Closing' Achievement Gap,
responsibility require one critic of NCLB? The
NEA response of "more money" is
By Dan Eggen and Maria Glod
Before he was a war president, George W. Bush
fashioned himself as an education president. He
campaigned as a school reformer and held his
first policy speech at a Washington elementary
school, where he began laying the groundwork
for the controversial No Child Left Behind
Nearly eight years later, Bush devoted his
final public policy address to the same topic,
traveling to an elementary school in
Philadelphia yesterday to claim success in
education reform and to warn President-elect
Barack Obama against major changes to the
landmark federal testing program.
Bush argued that No Child Left Behind has
"forever changed America's school systems" for
the better, forcing accountability on failing
public schools and leading to measurable
improvements among poor and minority students.
"I firmly believe that, thanks to this law,
students are learning, an achievement gap is
closing," Bush told the audience at General
Philip Kearny School.
He also suggested that Obama, who has vowed to
overhaul the program, should tread carefully
before following through on promises of reform.
"There is a growing consensus across the
country that now is not the time to water down
standards or to roll back accountability," Bush
With less than two weeks left in office, the
address marked Bush's last formal attempt to
burnish a political legacy tarnished by two
intractable wars, Hurricane Katrina and the
devastating financial collapse of recent
months. In a series of recent speeches and
selected broadcast interviews, Bush and his
senior aides have sought to argue that his
presidency was in fact successful on a wide
range of fronts, from nuclear proliferation to
trade to education.
With No Child Left Behind, Bush clearly left
his mark. Passed with bipartisan support and
signed into law seven years ago yesterday, it
marked an unprecedented federal foray into
locally controlled public schools and
transformed the education system for teachers,
administrators and nearly 50 million public
The law, which requires states to rate schools
based on annual testing, aims to boost the
achievement of students from poor families.
With the objective of having every child master
grade-level reading and math by 2014, schools
must meet steadily rising test-score goals or
The Bush administration says the improvements
have been widespread, including narrowed
achievement gaps between black and white
students; record high math scores among African
American and Hispanic students; and significant
increases in reading and math proficiency among
Despite continued debate over test results,
there is broad agreement among education
experts that the law has forced schools to
focus as never before on the progress of
minority students, those with disabilities and
those in poverty.
"It has made accountability a national issue,
and it has certainly shined a flashlight -- if
not a floodlight -- on low-performing schools,
as well as suburban schools and rural schools
where the achievement of low-performing groups
would have been swept under the rug," said
Margaret E. Goertz, a professor at the
University of Pennsylvania's graduate school of
But many educators and lawmakers have soured on
the law's details, complaining about the
quality of tests, the "pass-fail" system of
judging schools, and a focus on reading and
math that some say neglects history, the arts
and music. Teachers unions and some school
officials say the law is too rigid and
punitive, and argue that schools need more
federal dollars. Some Republicans say the
federal role in schools is too intrusive.
Efforts to overhaul No Child Left Behind fell
apart last year as Congress awaited the new
administration. Obama has said the law's goals
were admirable, but he has vowed to "fix the
failures" and add funding. He has also pledged
to improve testing and to create a more nuanced
system for judging schools.
National Education Association President Dennis
Van Roekel, urging more funding and
flexibility, yesterday called the law
"President Bush's failed education experiment."
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership
Conference on Civil Rights, yesterday praised
the law for calling attention to the
performance of minority students. He said he
would support additional flexibility, but he
said he worries that too many changes would
water it down.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the
law's architects, said the law has made schools
better, but it has flaws that need to be fixed.
"No Child Left Behind is one of President
Bush's significant achievements," Kennedy said.
"It's brought long-overdue national attention
to the unacceptable achievement gaps in the
nation's schools and their greatest needs, and
we've made real progress. But problems have
emerged, and the new Congress has a
responsibility to correct them."
In his speech yesterday, Bush said that the
"most important result" of No Child Left Behind
is that "fewer students are falling behind" and
"more students are achieving high standards."
He also dismissed widespread complaints that
the system encourages too much reliance on test
"How can you possibly determine whether a child
can read at grade level if you don't test?"
Bush said, adding: "To me, measurement is the
gateway to true reform."
Dan Eggen and Maria Glod
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES