The Fight Gets Dirty
Here's the New Age Democrats' spin on NCLB, NEA, and Howard Dean. For part 2, go to
Last week's second anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act's passage brought a predictable mix of celebration, criticism, and commentary. The Bush administration launched a celebratory tour touting the law's "accomplishments." And critics like the CATO institute, NEA, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean denounced the law with equal fervor.
As a New Dem Daily noted, both responses are ill considered. Given the administration's inconsistent and incomplete implementation strategy and underfunding, their PR campaign is eerily reminiscent of other premature declarations of "mission accomplished." Last week Senate HELP Committee Democrats and Congressman George Miller authored a letter to Secretary of Education Rod Paige that criticized the administration's NCLB implementation efforts and is a pretty good crib sheet of the administration's NCLB shortcomings.
Some critics cite the handful of school districts turning down NCLB funding and a lawsuit in Pennsylvania as evidence the law is flawed. Again, this view is ahistorical and also highlights the unfortunate tendency in the media to draw large inferences from isolated (and calculated, see item 1) events. Besides, were the closings of school districts, creation of private school voucher programs, and litigation during "Massive Resistance" evidence of the folly of school desegregation?
In Pennsylvania, the Reading school district is suing the state's Department of Education claiming the law is an unfunded mandate. But, as a recent Doyle Report article notes, much of the Reading case has more to do with state implementation problems than NCLB itself. Moreover, to the extent that there are real funding inequities impacting disadvantaged children under Pennsylvania's school finance scheme (and we think there is plenty of evidence of that), NCLB brings these issues into clearer focus and can help force state officials to address them. If NCLB proves to be a boon for state-level school finance adequacy litigation (as we think it will) that is ultimately a positive development for low-income and minority students and a pretty good reason to support the law. Likewise districts that can afford to turn down Title I funds are generally more affluent ones that receive little funding because they have few poor kids but benefit from diffuse funding formulas. Though not an ideal outcome, the positive consequence here is a small and unintended improvement in the targeting of Title I dollars.
Further, as Michael Kirst argues, it is far too early to really judge a law as complex as NCLB. Kirst's essay on early ESEA struggles, published in the Fordham Foundation's education newsletter, is well worth reading. And besides, just because the Bush administration has failed to implement the law effectively doesn't obviate the importance of the law itself. We'd like to see more effort from the Department of Education to make NCLB work by more fully engaging the Department's resources, particularly its non-political career staff, in the implementation effort. Conversely, we'd also like to see more tough questions directed at the law's opponents. If not NCLB, then what? Two years in there are still no satisfactory answers.
"An Educational Mission that Must Not Fail,"
New Dem Daily (01/07/04):
"NCLB and NEA: United At Last,"
David DeSchryver, the Doyle Report (12/24/03):
"Some School Districts Challenge Bush's Signature Education Law,"
Sam Dillon, New York Times (01/02/04):
"To Glimpse NCLB's Future, Look to the Past,"
Michael Kirst, The Education Gadfly (01/08/04):
Letter to Secretary of Education Rod Paige on Anniversary of No Child Left Behind:
Progressive Policy Institute
Two Years of NCLB
Progressive Policy Institute: 21st Century Schools Project Bulletin: Vol 4, No 1
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES