Education law’s promise falls short after 10 years

“You cannot dismiss these gains, and I think … people just aren’t willing to credit NCLB or accountability in general because of ideological and political preferences,” Schneider said.

As the years went by, however, the growth has largely plateaued, Schneider said. Similar large gains were not shown in reading, and some experts say more progress was made in reading before the law was passed. There are still huge differences in the performance of African-American and Hispanic students compared with white students.

As the 2014 deadline draws closer, more schools are failing to meet federal standards, with nearly half not doing so last year, according to the Center on Education Policy. Center officials said that’s because some states today have harder tests or have high numbers of immigrant and low-income children, but it’s also because the law requires states to raise the bar each year for how many children must pass the test.

Some states had long put off the largest increases to avoid penalties.

In Washington, much of the political debate over the law centers on how much federal control the government should have. Some Republicans want to go so far as to close the Education Department and end federally-imposed annual testing.

Even among Democrats there’s been some dissension. The Obama administration, for example, opposed the Senate bill passed in committee under the leadership of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, because it said the measure didn’t go far enough on accountability; Harkin said it wasn’t a perfect bill, but compromise was necessary.

Many educators are now looking to other factors such as online learning, an increased trend toward teacher evaluations tied to student performance, the federal Race to the Top competition that states have competed in, and the common core standards adopted in the vast majority of states as factors that could provide the next boost in education.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former education secretary, said he’s hopeful Congress will do what’s right and update No Child Left Behind, which became due for renewal in 2007.

“One of the things we ought to be able to do is fix No Child Left Behind,” said Alexander, R-Tenn. “What we ought to do is set new realistic goals for it so that schools and schools can have those kinds of goals, and most importantly we need to move out of Washington and back to states and local communities decisions about whether schools and teachers are succeeding or failing.”

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