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Bush’s NCLB Swan Song

By Alyson Klein — January 08, 2009 1 min read

President Bush gave his very last policy speech as chief executive ever today—and he picked education as the topic.

Here in Philadelphia, Mr. Bush extolled the virtues of the No Child Left Behind Act, his signature domestic achievement, in a speech at the racially and socio-economically diverse Gen. Philip Kearny Elementary School, a school that has made adequate yearly progress under NCLB every year since 2003.

He didn’t say anything new or surprising. He talked about how NCLB has helped expand access to choice, raised student achievement, provided parents with more information, and helped shine a light on groups of students and schools that were long ignored. You can read the transcript of his speech here. And he called on the incoming Congress and the new administration to keep the law’s core principles in place during reauthorization.

It’s obvious that President Bush sees NCLB as an important part of his legacy, and whether you like or hate the law, or like or hate the President, he’s certainly right in claiming the law has reshaped American education, and its effects will continue to be felt in schools long after he’s left office.

But, given Bush’s rampant unpopularity, this may not have been the smartest move. If he truly wants the law to stay more-or-less intact, making such a high profile speech about it may not have been the best way to accomplish this. It’s true that NCLB will, inevitably, always be associated with Bush. This big speech might give Democrats even more motivation to scrap the law.

And I’m not sure whether Obama’s pick for Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, bristled or smiled or both when he heard this from Mr. Bush:

I have seen the resolve for reform and the belief in high standards in Chicago, where reading and math scores are soaring, and where every child still has time to study a foreign language and the fine arts. The school in Chicago we went to, like other schools across the city, have benefited from the vision and leadership of a person named Arne Duncan. And he is going to be the next Secretary of Education. And we are fortunate he has agreed to take on this position. And we wish him all the very best.

The students and staff seemed thrilled with the presidential visit. But I overheard that some kids were disappointed that the visit wasn’t from President-elect Barack Obama, who won Pennsylvania and trounced his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, in heavily-Democratic Philadelphia.

Also...I overheard that Secretary Spellings lost her wallet at the school. After I file this, I’ll have to take a look around here. I bet if I’m the one to return it, she’d owe me an exclusive for sure...

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