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Where Would Hillary Clinton Stand on the No Child Left Behind Act?

By Alyson Klein — March 06, 2015 2 min read
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Nearly a year before the New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.

So, if she indeed ends up running and prevailing in the general election, what would happen when it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act? (Assuming, of course, that Congress hasn’t managed to pass legislation to rewrite the law by then, a move education insiders are considering to be less and less likely these days, according to this great flash poll from Whiteboard Advisors.)

Short answer: It’s far, far too early to speculate. But that’s never stopped a blogger. So here goes...

Clinton voted for the NCLB law in 2001, along with pretty much everyone else in Congress. But, even back then, she expressed some qualms about the legislation behind the scenes. In particular, she was worried about the impact of the law on suburban districts where most kids are already proficient, a Democratic aide to a member of the NCLB conference committee told me. And, in fact, suburbia ended up being the seat of much of the political dissatisfaction with the law.

As a senator in 2007, she pushed for adding a prekindergarten component to NCLB—something the Obama administration and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the education committee, among other Democrats in Congress, are championing now.

By the time she ran for president in 2008, she was critical of what she saw the punitive nature of the law. Check out some of her past comments on the law in this story, which takes a deep dive into Clinton’s education record, from her early work with the Children’s Defense Fund on.

The last time Clinton ran for president the question of whether to maintain the NCLB law’s annual standardized tests wasn’t really on the table. So it’s impossible to say where she would be on it now. But late last year, former President Bill Clinton advocated for testing only in certain grade spans (the approach his own administration took).

And earlier this year, the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Clinton in her 2008 race, and the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely aligned with the Obama administration that also includes some former Clinton aides among its top ranks, came out with a proposal to test students every year, but only use the results for school accountability in certain grade spans.

Could that be Clinton’s eventual tack, either when it comes to a new law ... or maybe more immediately, new waivers? Again, too early to say. But if an NCLB rewrite doesn’t start moving again soon, we may have months and months to play the guessing game.

It could be better for Clinton if a bill is able to get over the finish line before the presidential campaign begins in earnest, Andy Rotherham, a co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, former aide to Bill Clinton, and author of the eduwonk blog told me.

“It’s definitely more to her to advantage to have this done,” Rotherham said. “For some Republicans who want to run hard against Washington, having [a still-pending ESEA bill] out there gives them one more target.”