No Child Left Behind: An Obituary : NPR Ed Congress has done its part, and the much-maligned law is on its way out. But what will folks say at the education law's wake? Hint: Most won't have tears in their eyes.
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No Child Left Behind: An Obituary

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No Child Left Behind: An Obituary

No Child Left Behind: An Obituary

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Tomorrow, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote to replace the nation's big education law known since 2001 as No Child Left Behind. President Obama will likely sign this new version and will end an era marked by bitter fights among the federal government, states and schools. From the NPR Ed team, Cory Turner has this obituary for the law.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: That's right, an obituary because the law's critics and defenders all agree on one thing, that No Child Left Behind took on a life of its own. Actually, they agree on one other thing, too.

ARNE DUNCAN: If No Child Left Behind was a person, he or she should have died a long time ago.

TURNER: That's outgoing education secretary Arne Duncan.

DUNCAN: It's about time to finish it off and to bury it and to do something much better.

TURNER: NCLB was expected to expire of old age back in 2007, but Congress couldn't find a replacement, so the law hung on. While most folks are now happy to see it go, NCLB wasn't always this reviled. Kathryn Matayoshi is state school superintendent for Hawaii and says in the early days, NCLB...

KATHRYN MATAYOSHI: Worked very, very hard, was often misunderstood, wanted to do the right thing, but in the end, really didn't get where he wanted to go.

TURNER: Let's break that down - first, what NCLB did get right. Arne Duncan says before the law required states to test students annually and report the results...

DUNCAN: Our nation didn't talk about, you know, how black children were doing versus white children, how Latino children were doing, it didn't talk about achievement gaps. It hid behind averages.

TURNER: NCLB came in and told schools no more hiding. You now have to break down your student test scores to give an honest picture of whether you're serving all kids, and sure enough, many weren't. Sonja Santelises was chief academic officer for Baltimore schools and now works for The Education Trust, an advocacy group. She says NCLB reminds her of someone many of us will spend time with at the dinner table this holiday season.

SONJA SANTELISES: You know, the aunt that says all of the hidden stuff that nobody else wants to say at the table and got in our face about it.

TURNER: That may be uncomfortable, she says, but it was good. So where did NCLB go bad?

SANTELISES: That same aunt is just, like, overly simplistic and makes these broad generalizations.

TURNER: NCLB's mandates - that all kids should be proficient by the year 2014 and that all schools can be fixed using the same box of tools - were wildly unrealistic. Rick Hess studies education at the American Enterprise Institute and says when you're trying to help people run really complicated human organizations like schools...

RICK HESS: You probably shouldn't try to do it via memos and red tape from 3,000 miles away in Washington.

TURNER: And so here we are at the law's deathbed. Its next of kin, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, is ready to take over. The new kid will still be a truth teller. The testing and student data requirements have survived. The big difference is that much of the actual work of fixing schools will revert back to states. Does that make ESSA better than NCLB? Rich Hess says...

HESS: Yeah, I mean, I think ESSA's the kid who, you know, has had a chance to see his old man's failings up close.

TURNER: NCLB won't be laid to rest until President Obama makes it official. Then the clock will start on ESSA to see if its good intentions actually make good policy or, as one educator told me, just another good bad example. Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.

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