Because education is largely a government function, there seems to be little hope of ever disentangling politics and education.

Today I'll wear black to school. I've worn black to school almost every Wednesday since November 3, 2004. Why that date? On November 2nd of that year I spent 13 hours helping people cast their ballots for President in a polling place in Virginia. I went home, had a short but sound night of sleep, and woke the next morning to discover that George W. Bush was still President. I wore black to work that day, and I've worn black almost every Wednesday since - 168 out of the last 171 Wednesdays. The exceptions? The day after Democrat Tim Kaine won the governor's race in Virginia I wore more festive colors to work. (Since I work in West Virginia, half my co-workers never fully understood why.) I also dressed quite colorfully on the Wednesday after the most recent midterm election - the one where Democrats won back Congress.

There was also a day earlier this year when we had Monday off and I just lost track of what day of the week it was. My co-workers thought that was funny...

I know that President Bush has his fan club. And I know that there are plenty of people who dislike him for reasons other than education policy. But in my mind, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is among the low points of Bush Presidency.

I have several specific complaints about NCLB.

  • I don't like the way it has reduced the scope of curriculum. I think it has de-emphasized the arts, for example, in favor of the most basic, pared down core.
  • I don't like the focus it brings on mediocrity. The goal of education under NCLB is to move students who are barely failing on high stakes tests to the place where they are barely passing on high stakes tests. There is no reward for excellence. getting by is the goal.
  • I don't like the unrealistic and punitive nature of the accountability provisions. The eventual goal of NCLB is 100% grade level mastery. Every fifth grader, for example, should function at the fifth grade level (unless they have some profound disability). Schools that don't comply, don't meet this standard, are punished. The problem is that so many of the factors related to a student's performance fall outside the school's reach. Basic issues of poverty and social fabric impact a school's ability to achieve these goals; but the school has little power to address them. The simple truth is that there will always be at least one or two kids who don't make the grade no matter what teachers do. And eventually NCLB's accountability provisions will result in almost every public school being deemed a failure. It is a standard no other modern nation strives to achieve. It is unrealistic.
  • I think the law is underfunded. The requirements of NCLB at onerous in terms of both time and money.

You don't have to be a complete cynic to think that maybe, just maybe, NCLB's accountability provisions are a poison pill in the law. The intention could be to make public schools look bad – worse than they are – to justify the privatization of education through the use of vouchers. And right there in Bush's 2009 budget, what do we have? Proposed funding for a voucher program.

NCLB has failed. The task now is to replace it with a law with broader vision, a law more supportive of public education. Hopefully Congress will be wise enough to call for far more input from the educational community than they did in 2002.

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger