No Child Left Behind?

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The title of this article is taken from the inspirational slogan of President George W. Bush, whose recently passed Elementary and Sunday Education Act bears this title. In this bill, as in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, accountability won the day over federal fiscal support for low-income families. Of course, the 1996 Welfare Reform Act is a major ‘accountability’ success story, with the AFDC/TANF caseloads (households) falling from over 5.0 million in 1994 and 4.5 million in 1996 to 2.2 million cases by June 2000, about one third of the 6.6 million households which benefited from the SSI program in that same year (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2002; Smeeding 2001). But, what is the larger context is within which we should interpret these programmatic changes and slogans? The slogan clearly challenges us to judge a society by how well it treats its children. But when we compare the well-being of American children Canadian or European kids, can we really say that the United States not left any of its children behind? What can we say about equality of opportunity or fair life chances for America’s children compared to their counterparts in other rich countries?
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Smeeding, Timothy M.
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UNSW Faculty
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