George Will

The rationale for standards-based reform was that expectations would become more rigorous and uniform, but states' proficiency tests vary "wildly" in difficulty, "with 'passing scores' ranging from the 6th percentile to the 77th." Indeed, "half of the reported improvement in reading, and 70 percent of the reported improvement in mathematics, appear idiosyncratic to the state test." In some states, tests have become more demanding; but in twice as many states, the tests in at least two grades have become easier. NCLB encourages schools to concentrate their efforts on the relatively small number of students near the state test's proficiency minimum -- the students that can most help the state meet its "adequate yearly progress" requirements.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Republican who represents western Michigan's culturally cohesive Dutch Calvinist communities, opposed NCLB from the start because he thought it would "tear apart the bond between the schools and the local communities." He believes the reauthorized version of NCLB will "gut" accountability. He is gloomily sanguine about that because he thinks accountability belongs at the local level anyway, and because removing meaningful accountability removes NCLB's raison d'etre. He proposes giving states the option of submitting to Washington a "Declaration of Intent" to reclaim full responsibility for K-12 education.

Such states would receive their portion of K-12 funds as block grants.

But Rep. Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican, warns that Washington, with its unsleeping hunger for control, steadily attaches multiple strings to block grants. He proposes to allow states to opt out from under NCLB's mandates and regulations and to give residents of those states tax credits equal to the portion of their taxes their state would have received back in federal funds for K-12 education. Garrett thinks that this could be a template for states to escape many entanglements with Washington.

NCLB intensified what Paul Posner of George Mason University calls "coercive federalism." Kenneth Wong and Gail Sunderman of Brown University and the Harvard Civil Rights Project, respectively, say NCLB "signaled the end of 'layer cake' federalism and strengthened the notion of 'marble cake'

federalism, where the national and subnational governments share responsibilities in the domestic arena." Hoekstra's and Garrett's proposals would enable states to push Washington toward where it once was and where it belongs regarding K through 12 education: Out.


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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