The rise and fall of America's education president : George W. Bush's political leadership and the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act

Ethan L. McWilliams


On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush proudly signed the "No Child Left Behind Act," thus ensuring that H.R. 1 became Public Law 107-110. During the signing ceremony, the President triumphantly proclaimed that, "as of this hour, America's schools will be on a new path of reform, and a new path of results." The legislation, which totaled more than six hundred pages, was intended to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and expand its aim according to four central principles: accountability for results; state and local flexibility; focusing resources on successful methods; and expanding choice? Although substantively notable for its expansive breadth and depth, the bill was also truly remarkable for what it represented politically.

The bill-signing ceremony in Hamilton, Ohio, featured an unlikely assortment of lawmakers, each watching as President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation into law. Although the audience included Senator Edward Kennedy and Congressman George Miller, respectively a liberal Senator from Massachusetts and the other a liberal Congressman from San Francisco, there was no partisan bickering---only fanfare. More consequential, this bipartisan, sweeping transformation of education policy symbolized an enormous legislative victory for President Bush, who had entered the Presidency amidst claims of ineptitude and without the support of the popular vote. Despite these doubts, President Bush had boldly declared since his first days in office that "bipartisan education reform will be the cornerstone of my administration,"-and his relentless efforts leading up to the passage of NCLB seemed to validate his assertion. Although this pivotal moment in education policy history was remarkable in and of itself, a thorough understanding of the factors that led to this triumphant ceremony provides a rich and compelling case study in leadership.