House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.


January 23, 2008

McKeon Commentary for Education Solutions

The following commentary was published on on January 23, 2008 as part of a forum on Education Solutions.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A few weeks ago, education reformers from around the country marked an important milestone. On Jan. 8, we celebrated the sixth anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act. Although the date may be little known among all but the most dedicated education aficionados, the impact of the law can be seen and felt in each and every one of this nation's classrooms.

As Congress contemplates a renewal of the No Child Left Behind law, there are ample opportunities for reform. We have learned a great deal in the six years since NCLB was enacted, and those lessons will help policymakers to shape a more nuanced and responsive law. Teachers, parents, school leaders and education experts have all weighed in, offering valuable perspectives on where NCLB is working and how it can be made stronger.

We know, for instance, that loopholes in the law's accountability system must be closed to ensure that the performance of disadvantaged children is not being hidden or ignored. We recognize that schools and teachers deserve credit for improving student achievement over time. We have also learned that different schools need different types of assistance and intervention based on how many of their children have fallen behind, and by how far. These reforms are the type of fine-tuning that will ensure that NCLB continues to benefit those it was crafted to serve.

Among the greatest champions for a strong NCLB renewal has been the business community. Like them, I believe that America's future success will be measured on a global stage. The innovation and achievement in our boardrooms gives this country a competitive advantage in the global arena, and that same innovation and achievement needs to be fostered in our classrooms.

Yet despite this clear-cut need, education reformers and business leaders recognize that today's students are too often not being equipped with the fundamentals that will ensure a lifetime of learning, creativity and success. Through this great and growing need, we must understand the education reform vision of No Child Left Behind.

Although it is not often recognized as a vehicle for future economic competitiveness and prosperity, No Child Left Behind is remarkably attuned to the needs of students who we want to succeed in a competitive world. For instance, at a time when our population is growing and changing, NCLB demands that schools consider the performance of student groups that may otherwise be left behind. As it becomes clear that students cannot thrive in a broad range of subjects without first learning the fundamentals, NCLB is focused squarely on the educational building blocks of reading and mathematics.

Against the backdrop of an increasingly competitive world, Congress is grappling with divergent views on how to renew NCLB. The most dangerous of these views come from those who would roll back the progress of NCLB, backing away from its demands that all children be given the opportunity to learn and achieve and that schools be held accountable for student success.

Business leaders have spoken with clarity about the need to build a strong workforce that can keep pace with the rising demands of the global economy. They have helped define the issue of education reform as one of economic imperative. Now, they must stand firm in these convictions and reject the efforts of those who would return to the pre-NCLB status quo.

The arms race of the 21st century is a contest of knowledge. Other nations recognize that economic power and freedom in the future will be inexorably linked to the quality of the educational system that prepares their citizens. Any nation that ignores this new reality does so at its own peril.

The path to education reform for the future will not be easy, but it is crucial. We must ensure that the U.S. prepares itself for the knowledge-based global economy. NCLB has provided a foundation for increasing our nation’s competitiveness by working to close the achievement gap, ensure that children in struggling schools get the extra help that they need to increase their achievement levels, and improve teacher quality. It's now up to all of us to ensure that the law is strengthened so that our nation can meet the new realities of today and the daunting challenges of tomorrow.

U.S. Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., is the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

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