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No Cliche Left Behind

Nike wants us to "Just Do It." Coca-Cola, we all know, is "The Real Thing." By the way, ya' "Got Milk?"

And everywhere you turn in education circles, you hear "No Child Left Behind."

President Bush started promising that he would make sure no Texas child was left behind when he was still governor. But it wasn't until the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's 2001 rewrite took on the moniker that the catchphrase really, er, caught.

Now Secretary of Education Rod Paige seems to use it hourly, the Department of Education awards for outstanding schools are called the "No Child Left Behind—Blue Ribbon Schools Program," and Oklahoma lawmakers are considering a bill called the "No Oklahoma Child Left Behind Act." Similar legislation has been introduced in Maine.

When the ESEA was last overhauled in 1994, it was dubbed the "Improving America's Schools Act," a sober sobriquet that didn't take hold with nearly the same force. So what's going on here?

"They've branded that phrase," said Jessica Schwartz Hahn, the executive vice president of Widmeyer Communications, a Washington-based public relations firm.

"Branding" is a stratagem that companies—or politicians—use to differentiate themselves from the competition. By constantly exposing people to the phrase, department officials "are building awareness of what they want to accomplish," Ms. Hahn said.

"What's brilliant is that no one can argue with" not wanting to leave a child behind, she said.

But some have tried to hoist the administration on its own branding iron.

During a recent speech chastising Republicans for not giving more federal money to education, Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat who worked closely with members of the GOP to craft the law, stood in front of a sign with the words "no child" scratched out and "millions of children" scrawled on top.

And recent opinion pieces opposing the Bush administration's new tax plan have called it "Leave No Millionaire Behind." Even Education Week, with some hesitation, has succumbed to the craze from time to time. A headline in these pages last September, for instance, asked this question about the Education Department's Web site: "No URL Left Behind?"

After this column (see above), we plan to put this behind us.

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 22, Issue 34, Page 26

Published in Print: May 7, 2003, as Federal File

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