NCLB – Once more once
Ohanian Comment: Here's the standard argument: NCLB will survive because liberal democrats love it as much as do republicans. What Doyle deliberately ignores is that NCLB is the results of a long corporate push, and all politicos embrace the corporate vision.
The dauntless NY Times reminds us once again that it is the nation’s newspaper of record about NCLB as well as national and international news. (See Avi Salzman’s No Child Left Behind? Hardly, May 1, 2005.) Not surprisingly, NCLB remains in the news, a source of special consternation in states like Connecticut that are having a hard time meeting the tough standards NCLB has called for. (In fairness to Connecticut they have raised the bar high, forcing themselves to work hard for even modest gains.)
More significant than Connecticut’s concerns, however, is the NEA’s saber rattling. The nation’s largest teachers union, the NEA carries a big stick, and their unfunded-mandate suit represents a misconceived challenge to NCLB and all that it stands for.
The real issue is not that the NEA suit will win and roll NCLB back to ante bellum status, but the attitude the suit reveals. To understand what is wrong with such a suit, it is necessary to briefly go back in time.
Not long ago the driving education issues were equity and access, issues fueled by historic patterns of racial, ethnic and socio-economic isolation and segregation. More than an accident of neighborhood residence, segregation by race, ethnicity and income was a matter of public policy. It took Brown v Board to roll back racial and ethnic segregation and it took California’s Serrano v Priest to begin to roll back socio-economic isolation. (Because of the failure of Rodriguez, there was no tax-payer equity suit at the federal level comparable to Brown, and equity suits have of necessity taken a state-by-state route.)
So much for the courts. To give teeth to court decisions, legislative action is required. Enter ESEA, the centerpiece of LBJ’s War on Poverty, the source of billions of dollars in federal funding targeted for the poor and dispossessed. (There were similar legislative enactments at the state level, particularly in response to school finance equalization suits). To be sure, much remains to be done to assure full equity and access, but the policy die has been cast.
That is the short background of NCLB – it emerged full-blown from a long and honorable tradition of education reform committed to equity and access. Now it includes performance. It is worth spelling out the NCLB acronym (borrowed shamelessly from the Children’s Defense Fund): Leave No Child Behind? Access and equity, noble goals to be sure, are empty vessels if they do not translate into improved academic performance. What else are they about? That is why NCLB is so important and opposition to it so dismaying –-there is no doubt that it needs improvement and polishing, but that is not the same as abolishing it. As Diane Ravitch said in a recent Wall Street Journal op ed: mend it don’t end it.
Truth be told, NCLB is about much more than dry legalisms, just as any important piece of legislation is. It represents the culmination of a long public discussion, in which ideas are debated until consensus emerges. NCLB was not the product of ideologues of the right or the left, it was not a special interest hobbyhorse, it was not produced by back-scratching and log-rolling. To the contrary, it was the product of decades of subterranean discussion and debate which welled-up in the Congress in 2000.
George Bush’s ascendancy was a cause of NCLB, not the ultimate reason. Mr. Bush was able to seek and find broadly-based bipartisan support because – to use the historian’s term of art-– the climate of opinion had changed. Or to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term (from his eponymously titled book), the Tipping Point had been reached. Attitudes have charged irrevocably.
It is no accident that the principal architect of NCLB was Sandy Kress, not only a partner in Akin Gump (Bob Straus and Vernon Jordan’s law firm) but a liberal democrat! Nor was it an accident that Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman George Miller Jr. were ardent supporters. It was time to stand and be counted.
In 1964 (long ago as time is measured in Washington DC), LBJ had a vision: education would spontaneously break the shackles of poverty, racism and social isolation. A grand vision to be sure, but naďve in retrospect.
That is why NCLB will survive – change perhaps, be implemented unevenly, improve one hopes – because it was the right legislation at the right time. Knowing what we now know, and endowed with IMS software that makes schooling transparent, it is impossible to imagine a return to the bad old days when it was alright to leave some children behind.
Comments welcomed: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Doyle Report, Issue 3.20, no. 107
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES