It’s almost difficult to remember the good ole’ days when we knew where the battle lines were in the simplest of terms: Republicans really dug small government and states’ rights, and Democrats liked big government’s expansive goodness. Oh, how the game has changed.
Since its passage in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act, developed and pushed through Congress by the Bush administration, has been a veritable hotbed of good political debate. On one side, the act’s proponents, led by the president, claim its establishment of national education standards is a good thing, and that holding schools and teachers to a higher level of accountability is a damn good thing.
Those on the other side of the aisle kind of agree, but don’t see eye-to-eye on the act’s practicality. Sure, national standards and holding people accountable is a fine idea, but both are moot points unless proper resources are provided to the schools in question. These opponents have made it undeniably clear that their schools have not received this federal support, turning NCLB into quite the polarizing issue.
What is funniest about NCLB, which I see as both highly progressive and hilariously mismanaged, is the negative reaction to it from almost every part of the American education system. From school boards to administrators to teachers to state legislatures, the response is almost unanimous: NCLB is not getting the support it needs.
In early April, Connecticut’s attorney general announced the state would be suing the federal government, citing the program’s tendency to demand of the state exorbitant amounts of new education funding while providing no way for the states to actually get it. The attorney general’s point was that the federal government was demanding new financial contributions the state was not capable of providing. Just this week, the Republican governor of Utah signed a measure that will give the state’s education standards priority over new NCLB standards. In total, 15 states are considering anti-NCLB legislation this year.
Independent organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of Teachers of English, have expressed concerns over the legislation. Bruce Hunter from the American Association of School Administrators said he has never in his life seen the kind of consensus that has been built in opposition to the application of NCLB.
Whenever states start suing the federal government, it’s clear there’s a problem, as that’s not exactly too frequent an occurrence.
Actually, what’s really the funniest part of the missteps involving NCLB is that states and individual community groups (school boards, teachers unions, etc.) are expressing their concerns over an overreaching federal government … to a Republican White House. It’s humorous that Democrats like Sen. John Kerry are the ones stuck saying, “Hey, wait a minute. Before you make states do this, you better respect their autonomy and give them some money first.”
The recent surge of Democrats pushing civil unions and gay marriage through state legislatures and Republicans pushing more dominant federal government control over issues such as gay marriage, euthanasia and law enforcement is one of those political about-faces that only comes along once every 50 years.
And it’s not so much that NCLB opponents are surprised it didn’t receive the funding it so sorely needed and has yet to receive. (This funding, by the way, is immediately significant — almost every day, the L.A. Unified School District is in the news because of a new initiative or plan to turn its flailing academic programs into something worthy of federal approval.)
What’s surprising is that the Bush administration is so seemingly ignorant of public perception of NCLB. It might have been a good idea for the White House to soak up a little more glory in there passage of the NCLB Act, as a lot of school administrators, teachers and Democrats think the plan, in theory, is fantastically progressive, and worth everyone’s time. That’s not as much of a problem as the program’s complete lack of actual federal support.
If the Bush administration thought public perception of the act was important enough to put syndicated commentator Armstrong Williams on the Department of Education’s payroll, they must obviously understand how strongly some Americans feel about the illegitimacy of NCLB. If they’re that aware of how Americans see this, why not go that extra mile and actually fix this thing?
Perhaps NCLB is just one big ploy by the Bush administration to justify, in the face of proven unqualified public schools and intentionally lowered academic expectations, the privatization of American education. Let’s hope that isn’t the case.
It’s times like these when I wish far-reaching national benchmarks and federal programs were still the territory of the Democratic Party. Because if that were the case, a program as on-the-surface impressive as NCLB would at least have the opportunity to get its proper financial support, as Democrats understand that massive financial shortfalls can every now and again be fixed with small tax increases.
Whenever I see Republicans pushing far-reaching national programs, almost forgetting their own “starve the beast” outlook, I chuckle to myself a little bit. Then I cry.