NCLB Anniversary: Why It’s Not Mission Accomplished For President Bush Here Either…

To note the 4th anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush will visit and give a speech today at North Glen Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland. By all accounts it’s a good school with more low-income students than the district average and is making steady progress to improve. But at 241 students it’s a small one so its test scores may fluctuate more year-to-year than some others. Update: Wash. Post coverage of Bush’s visit and AP here.

Celebrating The ‘Right’ Way: More interesting, apparently MD’s Republican governor and lieutenant governor are skipping the visit. The governor is facing a lot of pressure from conservatives and apparently celebrating NCLB isn’t going to do much to help there.

On the 4th anniversary it’s worth noting that Bush’s Nixon-to-China move on education is still the linchpin of the law. If conservatives really go south on No Child it spells big trouble for the law. It’s a general interest reform (pdf) that displaces existing special interests but has few immediately traceable benefits for the public at-large. The special interest politics mean broad support from Democrats is a long-shot, at least for a while, so if the bottom totally falls out on the other side the political coalition crumbles. Urban reform oriented Dems and centrist Dems cannot sustain a reform by themselves, there simply are not enough of them.

Consequently, President Bush needs to thread the needle of quieting discontent about No Child within his own party without eviscerating the law. So far, not so good. On this one, the President does not have to go thousands of miles to a foreign land to find the hotbed of insurgents. Instead, the President could just walk across the National Mall. That’s because on a host of issues, teacher quality, inclusion of students in accountability systems, and (pdf) enforcement Secretary of Education Margaret “Earth Mother” Spellings seems more interested in making nice with special interest groups than holding the line on the law. Still plenty of time for that to change but the clock is running. While the Paige regime certainly had its problems, it’s an open question whether there is anyone left at the Department of Education with the inclination or the nerve to make the hard decisions.

Through The Looking Glass: The standard critique of pro-No Child Dems boils down to how can you side with President Bush on anything? That’s a pretty impoverished political analysis but that notwithstanding, isn’t an at least equally legitimate question how the Democratic left can side with the conservative Republicans who hate No Child because of concerns about federalism and the federal role in education? The merits of federal equity efforts aside, seems pretty counterproductive to longer term progressive goals.

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