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Commentary: How the school reform movement lost its way

LA School Report | April 3, 2015

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

By Diane Ravitch | The New York Review of Books

Fifty years ago, Congress passed a federal education law to help poor children get a good public education: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. Revised many times, it is still the basis for federal education policy today. When it was last reauthorized in 2001, it was named “No Child Left Behind,” which was President George W. Bush’s signature education initiative.

Both the House and the Senate are now debating a reauthorization of the law, which has been pending since 2007. Since the law gives Congress the power to determine how federal dollars will be spent, it is crucial to understand its origins and how it has evolved over time. Much is at stake.

ESEA was originally conceived as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “war on poverty.” It had one overriding purpose: to send federal funding to schools that enrolled large numbers of children living in poverty. The schools that stood to benefit most were mainly in the South and in big cities.

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