A decade ago, U.S. education policies were a mess. It was the classic problem of good intentions gone awry.
At the core of the good idea was the common-sense insight that if we want better and more equitable results from our education system, we should set clear expectations for student learning, measure whether our kids are meeting them and hold schools accountable for their outcomes, mainly gauged in terms of academic achievement.
And sure enough, under the No Child Left Behind law, every state in the land mustered academic standards in (at least) reading and math, annual tests in grades three through eight and some sort of accountability system for their public schools.
Unfortunately, those standards were mostly vague, shoddy or misguided; the tests were simplistic and their "proficiency" bar set too low; and the accountability systems encouraged all manner of dubious practices, such as focusing teacher effort on a small subset of students at risk of failing the exams rather than advancing every child's learning.