President Bush celebrated the second anniversary of one of his signature domestic achievements last week, as he trumpeted two schools he believes have begun to live up to the promise of the No Child Left Behind Act.
The events came as attacks on the law—signed on Jan. 8, 2002—have become more widespread in some circles, including among the Democratic candidates seeking to replace the president next fall. (“‘No Child’ Law Faulted in Democratic Race,” this issue.)
“I’m here to congratulate this school and to really hold you up for the nation to see what is possible when you raise the bar, when you’re not afraid to hold people to account, when you empower your teachers and your principals to achieve the objective we all want,” Mr. Bush told an audience at Pierre Laclede Elementary School in St. Louis. “And that’s to make sure no child, not one single child in America, is left behind.”
Meanwhile, the president last week also offered a glimpse of the education spending request he’s planning for fiscal 2005. A White House fact sheet issued Jan. 8 said he will seek $1 billion more for the Title I program for disadvantaged children—the flagship program in the No Child Left Behind law—and an additional $1 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main federal special education law.
President Bush also used last week’s school visits to respond to criticism of the No Child Left Behind law, such as complaints that its heavy reliance on standardized testing punishes schools and children.
‘It’s Not to Punish’
“The test isn’t a punishment, you know; it’s not to punish anybody,” Mr. Bush said during the Jan. 5 visit to Laclede Elementary. “The test is to determine who needs extra help. And that’s exactly why Laclede is doing well, I’m convinced, or one of the main reasons why.”
Recent state testing data for the small, K-5 school in St. Louis suggests that it has made remarkable progress in several categories, including reading. The proportion of 3rd graders who achieved the “advanced” or “proficient” rating in reading climbed from about 7 percent in 1999 to 82 percent this past year. The school last year had 226 children, all of whom were identified as African-American and eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
The president also addressed the law in his Jan. 3 weekly radio address and in a visit to West View Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn., on Jan. 8.
Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean used the second anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act to attack Mr. Bush.
“President Bush had no problem finding money for lavish tax breaks for millionaires, or over $150 billion for his misguided war in Iraq,” Mr. Dean said in Fargo, N.D., on Jan. 5, according to a Dean campaign press release. “But when it comes to fully funding his [No Child Left Behind] mandates, schools are out of luck.”
At a debate a day earlier in Iowa, Mr. Dean called the law an “unbelievable, intrusive mandate.”
But not all Democrats last week expressed such sentiments.
“I think the act is actually doing pretty well,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and a principal architect of the law, said in an interview. “I don’t want to pretend for a moment that it’s easy to implement, easy to make these changes, ... but it’s making a positive change for a lot of children and a lot of families who weren’t part of the education equation [before].”
He added: “It would be a lot easier if the president would keep his part of the promise [on funding].”
Mr. Miller and other Democrats argue that President Bush and congressional Republicans should back funding for No Child Left Behind Act programs equal to the authorization levels set in the law. For fiscal 2004, which began Oct. 1, the law authorized $18.5 billion for Title I, and for fiscal 2005, $20.5 billion.
The president’s planned Title I request for 2005 would bring total spending for that program to $13.4 billion— an 8 percent increase—for the budget year that begins this coming October. State grants for special education would increase to $11.1 billion, a 10 percent rise.
Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House education committee, countered the funding criticism, noting in a press release that federal education spending has climbed dramatically the past few years.
“When they controlled Congress and the White House, Democrats routinely appropriated less money for education programs than they authorized, yet not a single Democrat accused President Clinton of ‘underfunding’ education,” Mr. Boehner said.
History’s Wrong Side?
Also last week, Secretary of Education Rod Paige touched on the No Child Left Behind law in remarks at an event tied to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which struck down racially segregated systems of public education.
He compared opposition to the federal law signed two years ago to the defiance that the Brown decision encountered.
“No Child Left Behind is a powerful, sweeping law,” Mr. Paige said at a Jan. 7 event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. “Because of the powerful sweep of this change, this revolution, there are some who resist. That’s to be expected. The resistance to Brown was massive and sustained over generations.
“Those who fought against Brown were on the wrong side of history,” he said, “just as those who fight No Child Left Behind will be judged so.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 14, 2004 edition of Education Week as Bush Marks School Law’s 2nd Anniversary