Congress is debating the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002.

NCLB is the eighth reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which was a key program in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. The law was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007, but no bill has made it out of Congress.

NCLB directs federal funds to a variety of special programs that are supposed to improve education for disadvantaged students. NCLB stands apart from previous reauthorizations because it mandates annual statewide testing for all students in grades three through eight as well as once in high school.  Test results for all student sub-groups must be made public. NCLB further requires that states meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets with the goal that all students will be proficient in reading and math. Schools and districts that miss AYP targets are subject to federally-mandated corrections.

Reauthorization bills from Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and House Republicans are trying to fix NCLB.

President Obama is threatening to veto the House version. Meanwhile Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), House Majority Leader, has introduced an amendment allowing public district and charter school choice.

Politicians advance legislation like NCLB claiming it will help children have access to a better education.  Their intentions may be noble, but we cannot ignore the evidence that these efforts have been a failure and may be hindering, rather than encouraging, the innovation in education that will create real opportunity for all.

Each of the NCLB reauthorization bills on the table to one degree or another assumes that Washington knows best when it comes to educating other people’s children. In exchange for federal funds (paid for by hard-earned money from taxpayers in the states) states must adopt Washington-favored education policies. Each bill imposes testing, reporting, teacher evaluation, and corrective active mandates.

It’s time for a new approach to education policy.  A forthcoming IWF Policy Focus outlines how and recommends putting NCLB out to pasture and putting parents in charge instead.