Washington might finally send the 14-year-old No Child Left Behind (NCLB) K-12 education law to the trash heap of legislative history, where it should have been sent in the first place.

Secretary of Education Arne DuncanArne Starkey DuncanCongress has a responsibility to investigate the costs of prolonged school closures The Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package For the sake of equity, reopen schools — digitally, with exceptions MORE announced in a speech on Monday that the Obama administration will advocate for repealing and replacing it. Committee chairmen in the House and Senate reportedly indicate that they intend to prioritize writing a new bill.

Good riddance.

A small but vocal minority of my colleagues and I knew from day one that the law wouldn't work. We voted against it when Congress passed it in 2001 and fought against it ever since. When incremental steps didn’t work, I introduced a bill titled the A-PLUS Act, which would have provided states with the freedom to opt out of the ill-advised law and sever ties with the feds. It attracted support, but not enough for a vote.


To provide some historical context, the problems associated with NCLB trace their roots to the creation of the Department of Education in 1979 and a subsequent report on K-12 education issued in 1983 titled "A Nation At Risk." The two developments signaled to the establishment that it look to Washington for solutions to problems that only parents, families, communities, school districts and states could effectively address.

As a result, a faceless and distant bureaucracy began mandating everything from teacher qualifications to standardized testing to the food provided through school lunch programs.

The trend culminated with the passage of NCLB, which directed the government to evaluate instructors on how their students scored on standardized tests. Federal bean counters gave no consideration to any growth that occurred during the year — only to the score at the end of the year — to determine "Adequate Yearly Progress."

It meant that Washington would label teachers and schools who started the year with many underachieving students and significantly improved their results — but not up to the level determined by federal bureaucrats — as "failing."

I watched it happen firsthand while representing Michigan's 2nd Congressional District. Office functionaries 700 miles away in our nation's capital identified some of the most effective schools as failures, even though they never stepped foot in the facilities or even met the parents, communities and educators to try and understand their unique challenges.

The heavy hand of Washington has not worked. One-size-fits-all rules and regulations do not recognize the differences in needs and challenges between rural, suburban or urban districts. They were all treated the same. It was just plain stupid policy, but nobody would listen.

Billions of dollars, countless good teachers and untold hours of productive classroom and family activity have been wasted in the process.

Let's admit that NCLB has failed and move on. At the same time, we should practice extreme due diligence and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Duncan said that the administration is intent on retaining the mandate that all students be tested in math and reading annually from third through eighth grades, which would likely make a rewrite of the law an exercise in futility if not done properly. Providing room for flexibility and creativity to meet local and individual unique needs is critical to any solution.

How many times will politicians treat children like pawns, by showing compassion through passing more ineffective laws? Congress should take its time and pass a solid bipartisan plan that actually enhances the K-12 experience.

Congress has an opportunity to create a system that empowers the people who really care, those who know our children's names, their needs and their skills. They're called parents, families, communities, teachers and local administrators.

It's a novel idea. After 36 years of trying everything else, maybe we will finally do the right thing by getting Washington out of the business of running our local schools and put those who can really make a difference in charge.

Hoekstra represented Michigan's 2nd Congressional District from 1993 to 2011. He served on the House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.