The No Child Left Behind Act is the most sweeping effort to improve American schools and remedy educational inequalities since Brown vs. Board of Ed and the end of legal school segregation. But thanks to some fundamental flaws in the law’s design, ham-fisted implementation by the federal Department of Education, and President Bush’s tanking popularity, the law has become a political hot potato. While school reform has long been a primarily Democratic issue – and despite the fact that NCLB is tied to millions of dollars in federal funding for high-poverty schools – each of the Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning against law, and its reauthorization is very much in question.
Yesterday, one of the law’s principle authors and the ranking Democratic in the Senate Education Committee, Edward Kennedy took to the Washington Post op-ed page to make the case for NCLB reauthorization. The article’s most striking moment comes at the end, when Kennedy channels his brother, Robert Kennedy, asking “What happened to the children?” It’s a question that bears asking again and again. We ask so much of our schools – they free parents up to work outside of the home. anchor our communities, provide jobs, help keep our streets safe, drive our economy growth – that we sometimes forget that their most important job is to educate children. Whatever you think of NCLB or Kennedy’s argument, he’s right about that.