End It, Don’t Mend It: What to Do with No Child Left Behind

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The looming expiration of the federal NoChild Left Behind Act has prompted a flood ofcommission reports, studies, and punditry.Virtually all of those analyses have assumed thatthe law should and will be reauthorized, disagreeingonly over how it should be revised. Theyhave accepted the law's premises without argument:that government-imposed standards andbureaucratic "accountability" are effective mechanismsfor improving American education andthat Congress should be involved in their implementation.

In this paper, we put those preconceptionsunder a microscope and subject NCLB to a thoroughreview. We explore its effectiveness to dateand ask whether its core principles are sound. Wefind that No Child Left Behind has been ineffectivein achieving its intended goals, has had negativeunintended consequences, is incompatible withpolicies that do work, is at the mercy of a politicalprocess that can only worsen its prospects, and isbased on premises that are fundamentally flawed.We further conclude that NCLB oversteps the federalgovernment's constitutional limits—treadingon a responsibility that, by law and tradition, isreserved to the states and the people. We thereforerecommend that NCLB not be reauthorized andthat the federal government return to its constitutionalbounds by ending its involvement in elementaryand secondary education.

Andrew J. Coulson and Neal McCluskey

Andrew J. Coulson is director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute and the author of Market Education: The Unknown History. Neal McCluskey is an education policy analyst and the author of Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education.