Too Little, Too Late

In the interest of fairness and balance Eduwonk notes that for the most part President Bush’s education speech in Arkansas on Tuesday and remarks at NIH on Wednesday were pretty good. Sure, there were Bushisms galore and he fuzzed up the funding question, but his fundamental point — that it is essential to hold schools accountable for student learning and imperative that we do a better job looking out for the interests of struggling students — is an important one that progressives should be trumpeting not resisting.

Bush also noted that NCLB’s provisions are not punitive or draconian as opponents (and his former assistant secretary of education) claim. There is possibly a danger for anti-NCLB Democrats if he starts beating this drum…because it’s true. Good thing the press doesn’t think so! Besides, as Andrew Sullivan pointed out recently, liberals should favor doing something serious about low performing schools.

Yet Bush is in a hole of his own creation because he’s only saying these things now and focusing on education when his back is to a political wall. He left implementation of the most ambitious federal education law in a generation — which would have been a challenge in the best of circumstances — to an ideologically driven Department of Education that quickly turned it into a mess. In the process he became an unlikely ally for the law’s most virulent opponents. A three-day political roadshow is too little too late.

Senator Kerry will not move many votes except among public policy scholars by calling for a sustained implementation effort — it’s the last thing the law’s foes want — but it is exactly what is needed right now. What might such an effort include? For starters, real technical assistance particularly with accountability design and testing, professional development for both implementers and teachers, and targeted resources. State departments of education need help too. Someone should suggest that. Someone did!

Looking Glass Afterthought: If you needed more evidence that education is politically twisted, consider this: Reid Lyon, the NIH researcher who hosted Bush yesterday (and advises him on reading), has made his life’s work learning more about how children learn to read. In the process he’s produced seminal research that is helping to prevent learning disabilities and improve reading instruction. Yet the left loathes him…something about phonics. Did we mention he’s also a Democrat?

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