The Renewal of No Child Left Behind

In writing about federal education policy, one comes to the conclusion (if they are a conservative) that the topic sucks because it shouldn’t really be a topic. In an ideal world, it would be left up to states, who would be in competition with each other for a highly educated workforce that would bring industry into their state. However, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have liberal ideologues and manchildren controlling government.

There are some exception to this rule in education – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) did address a major problem with regard to children with disabilities and special education, making it a more fair (I know the phrase “more fair” in conservative circles causes gagging, but bear with me) for all students involved.

In no way is this over-extension of federal power more obvious, however, than No Child Left Behind. This comprehensive law was designed to force competition between states and schools by mandating benchmarks states had to achieve in order to get federal money, etc., and it backfired as only a federal policy that shouldn’t exist can. It expired in 2007, but nothing has replaced it, and so the U.S. still works under the assumption that NCLB is in place. Efforts have been made to renew it, and this summer, they are doing it again.

The House narrowly passed one bill on Wednesday, with all Democrats and 27 Republicans in opposition to the bill. According to the reports, Democrats are offended at all the things we as conservatives should like (inasmuch as we can like a bill that would revive NCLB), and the Republicans in dissent were offended that it wasn’t conservative enough, which we as conservatives should like more. The Senate however… is another story.

I’ve long contended that Mitch Hedberg is RedState’s supervillain. However, it can be argued that where he is Lex Luthor or The Joker, [mc_name name=’Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’A000360′ ] is a lesser supervillain – probably Two-Face or Toyman.

Alexander is, as Caleb Howe noted on Thursday, touting his conservatism (prior to this, we put his conservatism on a milk carton to see if anyone could find it) and trying to find support for his NCLB revival bill, which goes up for another vote on Monday afternoon. I say “another vote,” because it already lost once 47-53, and it’s looking highly unlikely that it will get the 60 votes needed to quell debate. Alexander doesn’t like the conservative reforms being pushed, as it would hurt the bipartisan effort he is building, because that is what true conservatives do, you see.

The House bill was able to pass good ideas that would dramatically alter how NCLB works. Students can be opted out of standardized tests with no penalties to the schools under this bill, whereas schools were punished previously if less than 95% of the student body took the them. It also pushes for money to follow students, rather than work in a top-down fashion and go straight to the schools. This particular change would mean that schools have to effectively compete for the money, rather than work under the assumption that they’ll get it no matter what. The one thing that conservatives were pushing for, allowing states to opt out of NCLB but still get federal money, didn’t make it into the bill, however.

The Senate bill? You don’t see some of this stuff, and Alexander outright disavowed the amendment that would allow states to opt out of the federal program, saying it would jeopardize the carefully crafted bi-partisan support it got in committee (it passed through committee solely because they didn’t want to talk amendments at all).

I am not going against Heritage by saying Republicans should support the House bill*, as they made it clear it was not conservative enough (and I agree), but in looking at the two bills, it is very clear the House bill is the better one. And I say this as both a conservative and an educator in a public school. It is not as though we should do nothing – the Department of Education will continue working under No Child Left Behind policy without a legislative change. It is necessary, and if we cannot (at this moment) get a full blown repeal of it, then the best thing we can do is whittle away at it. Comprehensive reform, after all, sucks. A lot.

 

*But I will say it sure doesn’t hurt that the House bill has been verbally trashed by the White House and the Department of Education.