WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday approved a sweeping bill to revise the contentious No Child Left Behind law, representing the end of an era in which the federal government aggressively policed public school performance, and returning control to states and local districts.
No Child Left Behind, which had strong bipartisan backing when it passed in 2001, was the signature education initiative of George W. Bush, who said the failure of public schools to teach poor students and minorities reflected the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
That law ushered in high-stakes testing to measure student progress in reading and math between the third and eighth grades. Schools were required to make every child in the nation proficient in those subjects by 2014, as measured by standardized tests. Schools that failed to hit targets along the way were subject to federally required sanctions, ranging from tutoring to school closing in the worst cases. Over time, the law became anathema to both the right and the left, and it became clear that the sanctions as well as the goal of proficiency by 2014 were unworkable.
The overhaul passed by the House on Wednesday, 359 to 64, jettisons No Child’s prescribed goals and punishments, and allows states and school districts to set their own goals and to decide how to rate schools and what to do with those that underperform.