In statehouses across the country, lawmakers have railed at the shortcomings of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind initiative.
In Utah, the U.S. Department of Education dispatched envoys to the state Capitol no less than three times during the recent legislative session to quell criticism of the program, which many political observers say was well intended but ill-conceived. The biggest flaw in this program is that it attempts to provide the same national fix to failing inner-city schools in Detroit and cash-strapped but successful schools in rural America.
The broad-brush approach doesn't work with education. It's best handled by local boards of education that are closer to the particular issues of each school community and can target resources at particular challenges and get rid of programs and individuals who aren't making the grade.
After several decades of experiences with the federal government's growing list of demands for special education and stingy appropriations for programs, the education establishment's reluctance to embrace another federal initiative is understandable. The federal government is big on establishing mandates, high expectations and reams of required paperwork. The states and local school districts are largely on their own when it comes to paying the bills.
NCLB is no different in this respect. While this page has long supported greater accountability for schools, NCLB is hardly the vehicle to ensure that schools are doing all they should on behalf of students. That function is best served by local and state boards of education. When schools aren't meeting students' needs, local school boards need to be responsive to those issues.
When they're not, top-down mandates such as NCLB can result.
Because this legislation was one of the major components of Bush's presidential campaign, few people believe that it will be shelved. But if it is to produce meaningful outcomes, it needs to be retooled.
Someone needs to rethink the testing and certification requirements. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, has proposed legislation to amend the requirements for new and experienced teachers, providing more time to bring rural teachers up to "highly qualified" standard, among other changes.
We applaud Matheson for his attempts to rein in an initiative, which in its present form is not workable — particularly in rural communities nationwide.
Our druthers would be that the federal government's involvement in education be kept to a bare minimum. But students, teachers and parents have to deal with NCLB, like it or not. The best Congress can do at this point is tweak the program so it can better achieve some of its goals without further burdening the states.