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“No Child Left Behind,” Finished. “The Race To The Top,” Just Getting Started.

In the old days, laws were called by their numbers. Or by their sponsors: the Wagner Labor Act, the Taft-Hartley Act, the Fulbright Act. It worked for nearly two centuries.

Now, almost every piece of legislation seems to need some corny nomenclature.

George Bush's program for public education was titled "No Child Left Behind." It embodied a promise that could not be fulfilled and that no one really took seriously. It was a public relations gimmick. In fact, it was a lie.

Barack Obama's education program has been named "The Race to the Top." A competitive sprint is among the least apt metaphors for how to learn, especially if it pits—as it does—state against state.

The one truth that these cliches prove is that our schools are in trouble, deep trouble. And that very few folks really want to have a serious debate about how best to calibrate education to temperament and talent and how to prevent social class from being formulaic predictors of achievement.

Should everyone go on to college?