"An unfunded mandate," cry the critics of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In the words of Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee: "By neglecting his promise to provide the funding necessary to help each student to reach high standards, George W. Bush has made a mockery of the phrase 'leave no child behind.'" Virginia's Republican-dominated legislature recently struck a similar chord, passing (on a vote of 98-1) a resolution complaining that the law will cost "literally millions of dollars that Virginia does not have."
Few doubt that education in our inner cities is in desperate need of improvement. Decades after the civil-rights movement began, equal educational opportunity remains more a slogan than a reality. Minority-group students in U.S. elementary and secondary schools continue to learn much less than their white peers, as measured by a wide variety of tests of student achievement, such as the SAT and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
President Obama staked out a position on education this spring, delivering a radio address that bluntly acknowledged that American high school students are trailing international averages. He sketched out details of a bill his administration would be pushing to revise the No Child Left Behind Act. He proposed to preserve testing requirements but create a better measuring stick, require that teachers be evaluated by performance (not credentials), and use carrots instead of sticks to encourage progress.