George Will

Forty years ago, Vietnam was a disaster and the Great Society was a disappointment as Johnson limped back to Texas. Today, there is more Johnsonian confidence in government's competence than at any time since Johnson's policies shattered such confidence. The resurgence of confidence began under today's Texan president.

The 1996 Republican platform said: "The federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula. ... That is why we will abolish the Department of Education (and) end federal meddling in our schools." One year ago, the Department of Education announced: "U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today honored President Lyndon Baines Johnson in a ceremony officially renaming the U.S. Department of Education Building ... as the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building."

The domestic achievement for which George W. Bush will be most remembered, the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, was the seventh reauthorization of LBJ's 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which brought the federal government heavily into primary and secondary education. NCLB requires states to define "proficiency" in reading and math, and achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

Frederick M. Hess, director of education policies studies at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that unless the "proficiency" standards are risible, the goal is delusional.

It is ironic, Hess writes, that 50 states establishing divergent standards -- the decentralized approach Republicans demanded -- have sparked demands for centralization, in the form of national standards, a decade after congressional Republicans opposed President Bill Clinton's plan for voluntary national standards.

Furthermore, Hess notes, there has been striking dissonance between Republican resistance to race-conscious government policies, and NCLB "requiring states to identify every student by race and then report test scores -- and impose sanctions -- on that basis." The Johnsonian attributes of NCLB, which Hess says include "Great Society-style ambition and race-conscious rhetoric," suggest that the Egg Czar, who also was the first National School Superintendent, would feel right at home in a Washington where he could be Automotive Engineer in Chief.


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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