In a surge of optimism based on hope rather than evidence, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Law in 2002, proclaiming that every child in America would be proficient in key subjects by ... drum roll, please ... 2014.

The law established an unprecedented national system of testing that fundamentally has altered public education. But there is zero chance that its lofty goal will be realized by the end of the 2014-2015 school year, when kids who were beginning their educational journey as the law was signed graduate from high school.

There is nothing wrong with the concept of rigorous testing. Accountability for poor educational perforce was virtually non-existent without it. But the experience has shown that testing and mandated remedial steps alone are not the path to the proficiency that was promised a dozen years ago.

This is not to say that there has been no progress. Graduation rates are up. Scores are up somewhat, generally and in comparison to those of students in other countries.

But many children continue to be left behind. The resolution lies not in the law alone but in the culture, which defies dates-certain. It will come in increments, from commitment and innovation, with the application of proven local results across broader populations.

NCLB has been a worthy effort. But its main result has been demonstrating how much remains to be accomplished.