George Will

SALT LAKE CITY -- If you seek a window into conservatism's current consternations, look into Utah. The nation's reddest state -- last year, and in six of the last eight presidential elections, Utah was the most Republican state -- is rebelling against President Bush's No Child Left Behind law.
    
Only three states have (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) challenged in some way NCLB's extension of federal supervision over education grades K through 12, but no state has done so with as much brio as Utah, which is insurrectionary even though last year 87 percent of its schools fulfilled NCLB's requirement of demonstrating ``adequate yearly progress.'' Utah, you see, is unique.

     Gov. Jon Huntsman, 45, is a seventh-generation Utahn. A former diplomat, he believes what the proverb asserts, that ``a soft answer turneth away wrath.'' He says, tactfully, that perhaps Margaret Spellings, the U.S. secretary of education, ``has not had time to read our legislation.''

     Utah's differences with Washington do not constitute a (BEG ITAL)casus belli(END ITAL) but Huntsman sounds somewhat like a South Carolinian, circa 1861, when he says the issue is ``sovereignty.'' Furthermore, Huntsman says that Washington is insensitive to Utah's ``pioneer ethos,'' and that ``we are always taken advantage of because we are a consistently and reliably Republican state.''

     The Bush administration calls the 1,100-page NCLB law ``the most important federal education reform in history.'' It is a federal attempt at large-scale behavior modification, using sunlight to cause embarrassment and embarrassment to prompt reforms. Standardized tests are supposed to produce data that, when ``disaggregated,'' will reveal the different attainments of particular schools and different cohorts of pupils. Unsatisfactory results will, in theory, shame communities into insisting on improvements.

     Many Utahns, however, take umbrage at the idea that it is the business of Washington -- a city that they think frequently embarrasses Americans -- to make them embarrassed about themselves. Their reasons suggest why reforms devised for a continental nation often collide with the nation's durable, and valuable, regional differences.

     Not all Utahns are Mormons. Almost 11 percent are Hispanics, heading for 20 percent by 2020, and there is a significant population of Pacific islanders. But the state's singular tone is set by the Mormons.


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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