Carson City children are headed back to school this week, and with them ride the expectations they will learn more and - above all else - score better on standardized tests than last year's students.
Otherwise, the schools they attend could be in big trouble with the federal government.
Such is the scenario established by No Child Left Behind, the federal law intended to break the status quo in America's public schools but which threatens to drag the entire system into a bureaucratic morass.
One Carson City school, Empire Elementary, last year failed to make "adequate progress" for the fourth time, putting it in a category that could lead to drastic steps, like the state Education Department taking over.
But every single Carson school failed last year to make the federal grade classification of "adequate progress," meaning they better step up this year or face the possibility of future sanctions. The first step would be to allow parents to send their children to another school.
Are Carson City schools in crisis? We don't think so, and we don't think parents believe their children are getting a substandard education.
What the No Child Left Behind criteria tell us is that, in most instances, a handful of children in these schools is struggling. Or in the case of Empire Elementary, that a number of fairly obvious obstacles - English proficiency, poverty, transience - make it difficult for many students to score well on tests.
In other words, most children in Carson City schools are getting a good education. The underlying theory of No Child Left Behind, however, says that unless every child does well, the school is failing.
And the fix? Allow parents with the means to remove their children. Reduce federal funding. Turn administration over to a state bureaucracy.
No wonder so many states are in open revolt over No Child Left Behind, with Connecticut the first to file suit on the argument it is an unfunded mandate. Under the guise of trying to improve schools, all it does is make them look bad.