WASHINGTON – President Bush is ready to shift his education focus to older students, building on the law he pushed through before terrorism and war came to define his presidency.

No Child Left Behind, Bush’s first big domestic legislative victory, orders schools to show yearly gains among students regardless of their race or background.

Bush will have a new education secretary to shepherd his policies. He has chosen his domestic policy adviser, Margaret Spellings, to replace Rod Paige, who resigned Monday. The nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.

The federal role in education has never been so big, and the president says his plans to expand the law “could move pretty quickly” in the new Congress.

“Do you remember the No Child Left Behind Act?” Bush said in his first news conference after his re-election, when asked how he would reach across party lines. “I think there’s the model I would look at if I were you.”

Yet some say that model needs much repair. Many Democrats who supported the law criticize what they call lackluster spending and enforcement under Bush’s leadership.

And with an expanded majority in Congress, some Republicans want Bush to put his power behind a more conservative school-choice agenda. That would mean a bigger push for private-school vouchers and charter schools, which are public but largely independent.

“We’re going to find out a lot about what George Bush is really all about,” said Andrew Rotherham, who directs education policy for the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank aligned with centrist Democrats. “He would be better remembered as the president who put in place the framework for closing the achievement gap – not the one who got a multicity voucher plan passed, which is the base-pleasing stuff.”

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