Former President George W. Bush defended his signature No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education legislation and said that critics of the law "don't like to be held to account," in a rare political interview published Thursday by Time magazine.

Bush argued that conservative criticism of the program, now 10 years old, was ill-informed, and that NCLB improved government efficiency.


"In some circles, punching No Child Left Behind is a way to basically say, I’m against Big Government. In fact, No Child Left Behind is a way to promote efficient government," Bush said. 

"No Child Left Behind basically says, If you’re going to fund [schools], like we’ve been doing for years, we in the federal government ought to demand accountability, which seems to me a very conservative principle. Yet some conservatives are saying No Child Left Behind is an improper role for federal government. In that case, it’s more philosophy than actual analysis of how No Child Left Behind works and its effectiveness.," he added.

The former president laid blame on ideologues from both sides for eroding support for the legislation.

"Some on the right think there is no role for the federal government [in education]. Some on the left are saying it’s unfair to teachers — basically, union issues. People don’t like to be held to account," he said.

Bush also said that President Obama needed to be a better advocate for the program and work to rebuild consensus on education reform.

"The President is going to have to be very firm in resisting the temptation to take the easy path. The President has to take the lead and say, 'Wait a minute, No Child Left Behind has worked. Let’s not weaken it.' And he has to find leaders in both parties to be willing to step up and make the change," Bush said.

Bush added his belief that there was room for compromise between the political parties.

"We didn’t agree on the funding formulas and certain issues, but we did agree on the basics. And that is, you cannot expect excellence unless you measure," he said. "I understand that No Child Left Behind became a convenient punching bag for some during certain political seasons, but to push back requires leadership from the White House and the Congress."