Conservatives were generally disappointed in the “No Child Left Behind” education reform act, mostly because President Bush did not hold out for school choice. Now, the Washington Post has discovered that the statute may not be toothless after all:
“State education officials are warning that a new federal education law’s requirement that each racial and demographic subgroup in a school show annual improvement on standardized tests will result in the majority of the nation’s schools being deemed failing.”
The problem with that classification is that if a school is “failing” for two consecutive years, it must allow and facilitate student transfers to other schools–i.e., permit school choice. School administrators are now worried that most of their schools will “fail” under the federally-mandated definition.
The education act is hard for a conservative to like, in principle. In particular, the requirement that student achievement be assesed on an ethnic group basis is deeply offensive. But it is hard not to enjoy the fact that liberals now find themselves hoist by their own petard. In particular, I find amusing the liberals’ complaint that due to normal deviations in standardized tests, “schools would often be deemed low-performing for what amounts to statistical–rather than educational–reasons.” This phenomenon has never bothered liberals in the context of race discrimination litigation.
There is a broad similarity between President Bush’s tactics on education and his plan to gradually reduce income tax rates. In both cases, the immediate impact of the statutes was small; it was relatively easy for Congressmen, who often don’t look past the next election, to vote for them. But both laws contain provisions that take effect over a period of years, and that will, if not amended, bring about significant changes. This puts the Democrats in the position of having to either accept the downstream consequences of the statutes, or take politically unpopular stands to try to change them. Thus far, no matter how much the Democrats would like to cancel the remaining income tax reductions, few of them have been willing to come out publicly in favor of raising taxes. Likewise, the Democrats will no doubt want to amend the No Child Left Behind Act to mitigate its consequences as those consequences become more apparent. But if they do so, they will be perceived (correctly) as selling out the interests of minority children by watering down standards.
Once again, it seems that President Bush has outwitted his opponents.
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