10/14/2011 04:03 pm ET Updated Dec 14, 2011

No Child Left Behind in Booneville, Kentucky

Since its inception in 2001, No Child Left Behind, the centerpiece federal education law, has injected long-needed accountability into our education system and invested in kids and schools that weren't meeting standards. As a result, over the last decade, the bi-partisan law helped millions of kids who, otherwise, would have lagged academically.

The law, though, wasn't perfect in design, and it is starting to show its age. One of the lessons we've learned is that, like many other federal laws, it was disproportionately weighted toward the needs of suburban and urban kids and left far too many children in rural school districts, well, behind.

This week, Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) released a draft bill that would modernize the No Child Left Behind law to include more kids in rural America.

  • The bill would allocate to rural schools nearly a quarter of the law's investments that promote innovative education models for reading, writing, math and science. If this mechanism had been in place from the start, another $100 million, for example, would have been invested in rural schools last year.
  • Testing standards would evolve to meet the needs of individual classrooms as well as empower states to develop action plans for low-performing schools.
  • A new program called Improve Literacy Instruction and Achievement would incentivize states to focus on early childhood education, the key to elementary school success and linked by experts to reduced crime and as much as $2 trillion in future economic growth.
  • And the lone rural-specific provision of the law - The Rural Education Achievement Program - would give additional funds to states to widen the number of rural schools served.

These measures aren't just Washington policy talk. They would have a real impact in real classrooms that desperately need real investments.

Take rural Booneville, Kentucky, home to some of the highest numbers of struggling families in the nation. If the Harkin/Enzi reforms were in place, students there might have access to cutting edge in-school and after-school reading programs, be reading 68 additional books a year and have more in-class instructors.

Instead of being more than half as likely as other kids to never attend college, more Booneville high schoolers might be taking their SATs rather than dropping out.

Senators Harkin and Enzi are showing thoughtful and strong leadership on behalf of their constituents and kids living in rural America. Now we need all members of Congress, even ones who represent the suburbs of New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, to join them. If they do, we will score a big win, not just for rural kids, but for the future of our nation.