Tonight in his SOTU speech President Bush will call on Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act. I still think the odds of that happening this year are pretty long (though it will happen at some point) but I’d never bet too much against Senate education committee chairman Ted Kennedy pulling a legislative rabbit out of his hat.
In the meantime, it’s worth wondering what would have happened had the President actually spent the past seven years making the case to the American people about the importance of educational reform as frequently and intensively as he did on the 2000 campaign trail? Sure, he’s talked about it in terms of competitiveness and some about equity. Yet he has never really forcefully challenged Americans to do better* than a schooling system that results in about 50 percent dropout rates for minority kids and a situation where the average black high school student is at the 20th percentile of the white performance distribution. He did that during the 2000 race, to good effect, but has seemed pretty tone deaf on the issue for most of the time since the law was passed.
It’s worth considering because no matter how low a president’s approval ratings fall, the president still speaks with one voice while, challengers speak with several, senators speak with a hundred, and congressional representatives hundreds. In other words, no matter how grim it gets, the White House bully pulpit still matters. Whatever you think about the President, seems like an enormous missed opportunity for the issue overall.
*Of course, this is a President who on the eve of war counseled us to go shopping…