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Assessing the ESEA Reauthorization: Will Some Children Still Be Left Behind?

Monday May 2001


Chester E. Finn, Jr. John M. Olin Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute
Andrew Rotherham Director, Progressive Policy Institute’s 21st Century Schools Project

Within days of assuming office, President Bush presented a bold education reform plan—“No Child Left Behind”— that held the promise of transforming the federal education role into one that would truly benefit low-income and minority students. Now, on the verge of reauthorizing the massive Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Congress seems to have given up on the most crucial elements of the President’s plan: testing, accountability and school choice. To many education reformers, the bills currently making their way through the House and Senate are unabashedly status quo. Is there no hope for real reform of our education system? No way to ensure that the “achievement gap” between poor students and their more advantaged peers is at last reduced and eventually erased?

The discussants are two of the Capitol’s most prominent authorities on federal education policy, Mr. Rotherham representing the “New Democrat” position and Dr. Finn representing a radical perspective on education reform. They will discuss the various provisions included in the House and Senate versions of the ESEA reauthorization and try to determine whether these proposals would produce any benefit for low-income and minority students. Questions to be addressed include:

  • Does the absence of strong school choice language from the Congressional bills diminish prospects to reduce the achievement gap?
  • Will the testing and accountability provisions in the current bills make a difference? Will states and districts feel the effects of these provisions?
  • What components of the competing education reform proposals are essential to helping to improve the educational prospects for disadvantaged children?