Bush was hands-on for education, healthcare; hands-off for planet
No Child Left Behind and Medicare expansion were bold strokes. On global warming, he moved glacially.
In domestic policy, President Bush leaves a deep imprint on public schools, healthcare, and the twin issues of energy and the environment. Synopses are below.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The No Child Left Behind Act, forged amid bipartisanship, took effect just a year into the Bush presidency. Groundbreaking in its promise, it proved heartbreaking, to many, in its implementation.
"The key legacy is that it has focused the nation's attention on closing the achievement gap," says Michael Petrilli, a policy expert at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a former official in the US Education Department under Mr. Bush. But "it's caused a backlash to testing and standards-based reform."
Concerned about what Bush termed the "soft bigotry of low expectations," NCLB supporters aimed to hold schools accountable for academic progress among all students. Prior to its mandate, many states did not test regularly to see if students were reaching math and reading standards, nor were they required to show scores by categories such as race and income level.
It's arguable whether testing – and the interventions when schools fail to meet improvement targets – has helped struggling students enough. Reading and math scores are higher at the lower end of the achievement scale, and some racial gaps have narrowed. But analysts say such gains were under way before the law took effect.
Critics say schools now are focusing too narrowly on test preparation and that the law has increased dropout rates among minorities. The government, moreover, has not adequately funded NCLB, they charge. The law's requirement that all children have "high quality" teachers was a civil rights breakthrough, but it also stirred controversy about criteria that not everyone agreed were the best measures of teacher quality.
Many conservatives cite NCLB as the poster child for big-government intrusion and call for a return to local control.
While people from across the political spectrum want changes in NCLB, its core principles retain wide support, including from Bush's successor.
– Stacy Teicher Khadaroo
Bush leaves a mixed legacy on healthcare. With Congress, he expanded Medicare benefits to include prescription drugs and doubled funding for community health centers. But like presidents before him, he did not resolve systemic woes in the healthcare system.
During his watch, the number of uninsured Americans rose from about 40 million to 47 million, and healthcare costs soared at rates double and triple that of inflation. Average healthcare premiums are 100 percent higher than in 2000, making it harder for businesses to continue providing workers with comprehensive health insurance.
Though heralded by many, Medicare expansion to include prescription-drug coverage for the elderly remains controversial. The program did make it easier for 7 million seniors to buy medication, cutting the share of seniors who lacked such coverage from 33 percent to 6 percent, according to government figures.