For those of us who've been watching this train wreck -- or rather, this slow, screeching halt -- up close, this news comes as no surprise, but a New York Times eulogy somehow makes it official: No Child Left Behind won't be reauthorized this year, after all. Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, had a formidable task on his hands in placating the teacher unions, who were ticked off at his proposal to offer extra pay to individuals agreeing to work in high-poverty schools; winning the votes of Republicans loathe to actually fund the provisions of the never fully-enacted legislation; and soothing Democrats who were disappointed that the bipartisan draft proposal retained President Bush's emphasis on test-based accountability for all students by 2014.

I had been hopeful throughout this process, since I liked some of the proposal draft's reforms, such as adding subject areas beyond math and reading (such as civics, science, and writing) that schools can use to demonstrate student achievement. Now, who knows where this debate will pick back up in 2008, and how it will affect the way -- and how often -- presidential candidates speak about education policy?

In the meantime, Congress should pay attention to John Edwards' proposal to decrease the isolation of poor, non-white students inside our public schools, as well as both Edwards and Hillary Clinton's support for school-wide teacher merit pay, which represents a compromise with teacher unions. Under such plans, all the teachers in a building are rewarded when student achievement improves, rather than judging individual teachers by the performance of individual students.

For their part, the presidential candidates would benefit from thinking in a more detailed way about what sorts of learning the federal government should encourage in American classrooms, and how the United States can systematically recruit and train high quality teachers. Hopefully the delay in reauthorizing NCLB isn't a setback, but rather an opportunity to come closer to getting federal education policy right.

--Dana Goldstein

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