If you stop and listen, you can hear it: The country yearning, praying, hoping for some sign that our political leaders can get their acts together and get something done, something constructive that will solve real problems and move the country forward again. In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, that something was the No Child Left Behind Act, which was the umpteenth renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A reauthorization of the ESEA (on its fiftieth anniversary no less) could play the same role again: showing America that bipartisan governance is possible, even in Washington.
Thankfully, both incoming chairmen of the relevant Senate and House committees—Lamar Alexander and John Kline—have indicated that passing an ESEA reauthorization is job number one. And friends in the Obama administration tell me that Secretary Duncan is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work on something the president could sign. So far, so good.
So what should a new ESEA entail? And could it both pass Congress and be signed by President Obama? Let me take a crack at something that could.
First, let’s set the context. For at least six years, we at the Fordham Institute have talked about “reform realism” in the context of federal education policy—recommending that Washington’s posture should be reform-minded, but also realistic about what can be accomplished from the shores of the Potomac (and cognizant of how easy it is for good intentions to go awry). While Secretary Duncan gave...