Nan Austin

On Campus: No Child Left Behind needs a second act or curtain call

On election night, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, stood before his supporters and, with GOP House and Senate majorities firmly in place, pledged to start sending bills to the president’s desk.

He referred to long-needed overhauls in immigration policy, tax reform and a dozen other headline news topics glued in the gridlock. But there is another law gathering dust in Congress’ to-do pile, an act that transformed education starting in 2002 and has sat frozen in time ever since.

The No Child Left Behind Act started off with the noble goal of raising up kids no one thought could excel. Measuring their progress made their progress matter. Every child was to be proficient by 2014, an appealing political slogan that was intended to get an update by 2007, when the law expired.

Today, it lives on in the half-life of the perpetually extended, a status Hickman Charter School co-director Frank Kampen charitably called “unresolved.”

Speaking after the school’s 20th anniversary celebration Wednesday, Kampen noted that the law makes all the changes of this year that much harder. “It’s an old law that’s still out there in its legacy form,” he said, something Congress could not iron out a solution for. “Red or blue, everybody had a hand in that,” he said.

No Child Left Behind has become the 55mph hour limit on highway sections most drivers speed through. Schools miss federal targets again and again and again, but are not remade, just required to provide free tutoring and transfers on request. The U.S. Department of Education has granted 43 states waivers from the law. California is not among them.

A Republican remake of NCLB passed the House last year that would have gutted the accountability portion of the law. It never made it through the Democratic-led Senate. Democrats proposed a less drastic revision, leaving a modified measuring system in place.

However the next version reads, the ghostly remnants of No Child Left Behind deserve a spot on the Congressional agenda this term.

Schools opposed, but unions backed the provision, which at some future time will limit savings to only a few weeks of operating costs. In an examination of the measure this week, consultant School Services of California Inc. said it is difficult to predict when all the provisions will be in place to trigger the limit, but recommended maintaining current reserve policies for now.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.