Uneththusiastic About NCLB
M. Stanton Evans, former editorial page editor of the Indianapolis paper, succinctly puts it, "bipartisanship is when the stupid party and the evil party get together and do something something truly stupid and evil."
The No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law before Sept. 11, 2001, when George W. Bush was desperate for a legislative notch on his belt and the Senate was still in Democratic hands.
As a result, Teddy Kennedy and his fellow liberals won a mammoth increase in federal education spending in return for so-called accountability reforms. Not that our mediocre public school system couldn't use some accountability: We are raising a generation of students who truly don't know much about history -- or anything else. But the reforms already are under attack from education interests as unwieldy, unfair and too costly.
In Michigan, for example, the statewide tests required by No Child Left Behind have gone through so many rewrites that they have little credibility with parents, and the state education bureaucracy still hasn't completed its school evaluations. No sooner had preliminary evaluations been completed showing that even many supposedly top-performing schools in the suburbs were falling short than complaints and appeals began to pour in.
As Teddy Kennedy no doubt understood, the Lake Wobegon effect will soon enough reduce the accountability part of the No Child Left Behind Act to rubble. Parents simply don't want to hear that all their kids might not be above average. Woe to the legislator who opposes yet more spending on the schools. Michigan's Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm recently proposed "hitting the pause button" on a previously scheduled cut of 0.1 percentage point in the state income tax to prevent, among other things, a $196 per pupil cut in state aid to schools. This despite the fact that average per pupil spending has risen to more than $8,000, well above the national average, which itself has doubled in real terms since 1970.
Only after Michigan Republican chairwoman Betsy DeVos lambasted the Granholm move as, in effect, a tax increase did leaders of the GOP majority in the state Legislature begin to grumble about this latest revenue grab.
Federal spending for schools has soared to $10 billion from $1 billion under the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, most of it for Title I outlays for schools in poorer districts. Yet, as Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom recount in their recent book, "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning," studies of the results have been "devastating." If anything, they say, "average achievement in the Title I schools sampled was declining slightly."
In typical fashion, this only led Washington's politicians to redouble their efforts rather than rethink their premises. What counts in politics, after all, is good intentions, not good results. While the No Child Left Behind Act leaves open the possibility of turning federal school spending into vouchers some day in the future, instilling meaningful competition in the K-12 system, you might not want to stand on one foot waiting for it to happen.
In his 2000 campaign, President Bush touted a Texas accountability plan as the model for the nation. But subsequent studies raised serious doubts about whether his plan has raised performance as much as he and Secretary of Education Rod Paige, former superintendent of the Houston school system, claimed. Now Bush and Paige have saddled the country with a law that guarantees more spending now with reform only in the uncertain future.
No Child Left Behind was hailed as a bipartisan success when it was enacted. But as my friend M. Stanton Evans, former editorial page editor of the Indianapolis paper, succinctly puts it, "bipartisanship is when the stupid party and the evil party get together and do something something truly stupid and evil."
It may be overstating things to say the No Child Left Behind Act is evil, but it seems likely to go down in history as one of the less brilliant -- and more expensive -- pieces of legislation of the early 21st century.
Ed reform boils down to spending hike
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES