Congress took the first step in 2002, passing NCLB with landslide bipartisan support. (Even Sen. John Kerry voted for it, before campaign-stumping against it.) The act requires each participating state-"participating" means receiving federal education funds and no state has yet opted out-to create a plan to demonstrate "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) toward a common goal: universal student proficiency in reading and math by 2014.
The concept is not new: NCLB is the seventh reauthorization of President Lyndon Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, legislation considered groundbreaking at the time. ESEA reauthorizations in 1988 and 1994 had required states to show progress and report it. But the 2002 version has teeth: It requires states to actually achieve AYP-or else.
"The real breakthrough in No Child Left Behind is the notion of credible consequences," said Colorado Commissioner of Education William J. Moloney. During his 39 years working in public education, Mr. Moloney has watched Congress retool ESEA again and again-and watched the states suck up federal dollars with no gains in achievement from low-income and minority kids. "For decades, it was the states saying to Congress, 'Hey you dummies, just send the money and leave us alone,'" Mr. Moloney said.