To what extent, and in what manner, did the 2006 mid - term elections affect education policy and practice in this country? The answer to that question lies in part with the answer to another question, namely, is education policy still largely local or has it been nationalized?
The Answer: All of the Above.
With all the press given to "No Child Left Behind," we might think that all the responsibility for reform rests in Washington. On the other hand, the proliferation of charter schools and the few instances of voucher programs remind us that education politics is local.
We first must ask whether Democrats will move to abolish Bush's showcase education act. The Answer: Why should they? They seem to have gotten everything they wanted on January 2, 2002 when Senator Kennedy looked in triumph over George Bush's shoulder as the president signed the bill into law. Some might even venture to say that it is precisely because of programs like NCLB that the Republicans have lost electoral ground.
In the interest of supporting a Republican president, I wonder if too many conservatives have been willing to sacrifice principle for politics in their support for NCLB. Some have indeed supported the legislation, heralding it as an important first step toward accountability and choice in American public education.
A few, though, might find disturbing comments by an otherwise insightful education leader like Chester Finn, who, in the context of offering advice on improving NCLB writes, in an open letter to the presumptive new leader of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, George Miller, "It's naïve to expect state and local education agencies to reform themselves - - or one another, or the schools they allowed to falter."
Well, maybe it is true that parents, teachers and local officials cannot see their way clear to improving their own schools. If so, it may also be time to declare the tradition of the reserve powers of the states bankrupt. (Maybe if Washington and NEA would get off their backs, they might prove remarkably capable of improving their children's education.)
But might it not be even more naive to expect that a top down, intrusive and bureaucratically complex program like NCLB will really improve education in the diverse conditions one finds traveling from Georgia to Maine to Alaska and then out to Hawaii?
The problem I have is in finding a single teacher who has something good to say about NCLB. Honestly, I would love to hear from someone who can disprove my impressions. Please write. I'd like to hear something positive. I'm tired of all the whining.
Henry T. Edmondson III is Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at the Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia.
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