No Child Left Behind succeeded in focusing the nation’s attention on meeting the needs of all learners, including poor children, children of color, and children with special needs. Unfortunately, the program was underfunded, the tests were not good enough, and the law resulted in unintended consequences, for example, a narrowing of the curriculum. Going forward with the reauthorization, we need to get the incentives right for schools serving at-risk children, enhance accountability systems, address the learning needs of special populations, and — most importantly — support teacher quality efforts. Voluntary national standards would help many states meet the goal of educating all students to a high academic level.

Many children begin school already far behind their peers. Experimental research has demonstrated that early education works. President Obama should establish an Early Learning Council, as he has pledged, to build an early childhood education policy from the patchwork quilt of programs that exist today.

The knowledge base in education is woefully inadequate. The annual budget for the Institute for Education Sciences last year was $594 million, a small fraction of the $28 billion allocated for the National Institutes of Health. It is little wonder that medical breakthroughs have outpaced advances in education. We need rigorous research to guide decision making. The influx of dollars through the stimulus package is a start.