George Will

Twenty-eight percent of the nation's public schools (about 26,000 of 91,400) have been found to have not made ``adequate yearly progress.'' To those who say it is excessive to require 100 percent of a school's students to reach certain goals, Boehner responds: What number would you substitute? Ninety-five? ``That means you can throw 5 percent of the children overboard.'' His is the right spirit, but perhaps a, say, 95 percent requirement would allow reasonable latitude. There would, however, be pressure to lower it to 85 percent, on the way to ...

The danger is that standards have the perverse effect of triggering a ``race to the bottom": States such as South Carolina that set high standards -- and had 62 percent of its schools fail to make mandated progress last year -- will face sanctions as a result of high standards. Note this: States are required to set their own criteria for identifying ``persistently dangerous" schools, from which any child will have a right to transfer. By California's chosen criteria, the number of such schools in the state is: 0.

Federal money -- the 8 percent lever -- is large enough to change what must be changed before anything else can be: the subject. Answering the question ``Is Bush a Conservative?" in Commentary, Daniel Casse of the White House Writers Group notes that a major theme of Bush's governance is ``deconstructing domestic-policy monopolies (Medicare, Social Security, teachers unions, etc.)." And NCLB, although flawed, ``has succeeded in changing the terms of debate."

``For years," he writes, ```progress' in education was measured by the expenditure of ever more federal dollars and the appeasement of Washington-based pressure groups." Today the argument is about standards -- how to measure and meet them -- and how much autonomy schools should have in doing so. That is progress that will not be easily reversed, partly because it is popular with a constituency, the inner city poor, that Democrats often abuse in order to mollify a rival constituency, the teachers unions.

An aide to John Kerry says, ``He wouldn't in any way back away from the commitment to accountability." It took decades to defeat liberal resistance to welfare reform. Resistance to education reform is crumbling more quickly.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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