Five years ago, President Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind. As a new Congress prepares to debate the law’s future, the White House is working to build support for renewing it without any serious reforms. Last week, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings remarked that she was looking only at proposals to “perfect or tweak” it.
But the Bush administration’s satisfaction with No Child Left Behind is surprising because the President’s original education agenda was very different from today’s law. President Bush once advocated limiting federal power in education. During the 2000 campaign, he pledged that he did not want to be “federal superintendent of schools” or the “national principal.” He promised not to “tinker with the machinery of the federal role in education” but to “redefine that role entirely.”
After entering the White House, Bush unveiled the original No Child Left Behind plan. One of this plan’s main pillars was to give states and school districts control in exchange for strong accountability. “The federal government must be wise enough to give states and school districts more authority and freedom,” the White House explained. “And it must be strong enough to require proven performance in return.”
The president proposed a “charter state” option for “state and districts committed to accountability and reform.” This would have allowed participating states and districts to enter into five-year agreements with the secretary of education to free them from federal mandates while still requiring public school to be transparent about results through student testing and extensive public reporting.
Yet Congress scrapped much of President Bush’s original plan. The 1,100-page bill that emerged established new federal requirements and boosted funding for elementary and secondary education programs by approximately 26 percent. All that remained of the “charter state” option was a small provision to grant states