Our Nation’s Burden?

NochildOn my recent post regarding the top 10 changes to NCLB recommended by our National Teacher of the Year team, I wrote:

I’ve been mentally wrestling with an interesting question since seeing this list a few weeks back: If we could only guarantee that one of these critical changes would be adopted, which one would you argue in favor of?

Mike–one of my regular readers–pushed my thinking into an entirely new direction when he wrote:

If each and every one of these was implemented, we’d be more snowed under with federal mandates and control than we are now. The federal government has no business whatever raining down mandates on local school districts. Can anyone in their right mind imagine that the involvement of the feds will be helpful?

If NCLB and all federal education mandates went away, magically, immediately, what would be the effect on the classroom teacher in Anywhere, USA? At worse, nothing; at best, things would become easier.

What’s interesting to me is that until Mike posted his thoughts, I had just taken it for granted that federal control over education was a part of the new reality of teaching in America.  Now I’m left to wonder if our efforts to revise NCLB are misguided.

Should we instead focus on scrapping it completely?  After all, federal mandates—tied to support funding for Title 1 schools—are becoming the focal point for educational decisions despite a Constitution that places control for education in the hands of state governments. 

But in many ways, NCLB has brought a measure of standardization to our nation’s schools that mirrors the educational systems of successful nations overseas.  While state control of education fits our nation’s founding belief that decisions should be made by those closest to the local community, new measures of consistency set by Washington have drawn attention to educational inequalities that had gone overlooked for decades. 

So where do you stand on NCLB?  Has it become our nation’s burden?  Should we return to a time when states and districts made decisions about what was best for the children in their communities?  Or is NCLB a nobel—yet flawed—policy that is simply in need of revision?

Image retrieved from http://governing.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/nochild.jpg on May 27, 2007.


  1. R. NeSmith

    I do think the issue is “who” has the authority to control, govern, and police education, and as we all know the Constitution does NOT provide the federal government with this right/obligation. That can only lead back to the first controversy with NCLB: Is it legal? I suppose the next question is WHY has the federal government made education a POLITICAL issue? I believe our children deserve better than to just become a political leverage or a rhetorical debate.

  2. Mike

    At one time, one of the primary, unshakable tenants of conservatism was that government should do only what individuals absolutely could not do for themselves. On the federal level, this meant that the federal government should never involve itself in state, to say nothing of, local issues such as education. Philosophically it was considered to be utterly wrong, because practically, more than sufficient mechanisms existed at the state and local levels to deal with virtually any issues, such as, just for example, education.
    No conservative (for the most part, Republican) politician would even think of running on a platform of federal interference in local education. A federal department of education was (and is) to true conservatives, akin to blasphemy, for it represents the worst kind of nanny statism, and an unconscionable and utterly unnecessary intrusion on the prerogatives of local and state government.
    And now we have the federal Department of Education, the leader of which apparently believes that her job entails flying around the world chatting up NCLB and giving speeches. She has even declared the NCLB a “civil right!” I guess I missed that one in the Constitution. Conservatives who opposed the establishment of the DOE were wise indeed, no? I fear that Ronald Reagan was right when he observed that the closest thing to eternal life on Earth is a government program, and the most horrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
    So, do we need a federal DOE and NCLB? It’s not hard to figure out. What problem in education requires the interference of state government, to say nothing of federal government? What problem cannot be solved on the local level?
    First, let’s keep in mind that most–by far– American schools do a good job of providiing educational opportunity. Let us never be so quick to accept the “American education–all of it– is failing!” propoganda, as it just isn’t so. It’s not so, that is, if we’re solving problems locally, but it’s absolutely necessary for massive PR campaigns necessary to drum up support for draconian federal legislation. Locally, the correct response to any problem is: “Well, why don’t you just fix it?”
    OK. Problems. Educational inequality?
    Poor teachers? Bad administrators? Politicians posturing instead of managing? High drop out rates? Ineffective curriculum? Too much football, not enough learning? Name the problem, and explain, if you can, why local school boards cannot deal with it. The answer is, they can.
    The political/electoral/managerial mechanisms exist in every school district in the nation sufficient to solve any of these and more problems. But wait, you say, the local school board is corrupt, the public doesn’t care, the teacher’s union refuses to cooperate, etc. None of these issues, true as it may be in a given district, is an argument for federal intervention, but for the citizens in those districts to assume their civic responsibilities inherent in our democracy. Can we really suppose that educrats in DC, handing down edicts and managing from afar will solve any problem better (cheaper?) than informed local citizens?
    But NCLB generates data, sends a message, raises public awareness, calls attention to inequality, lack of diversity, yada, yada. Locals can’t generate data, send a message, raise public awareness, call attention to inequality, lack of diversity (yada, yada)?
    Ultimately, I have to ask myself (self, I ask) how, exactly, any federal or state mandate makes it easier for me to teach effectively. How does any of this help my students–today, in my classroom, in real, not DC time–learn? When I’ve asked supporters of NCLB and federal intervention that question, we’ve both realized that their answers have little to do with teaching well, but everything to do with politics and sending messages.
    Well, we have a federal DOE now, and it’s going to be around for a long time. And like all federal bureaucracies, it’s primary concerns are generating tons of data in the pursuit of ever more funding and power and growth, not in helping Mr. John Teacher in the English classroom of Anytown High School, Anytown, USA teach better. Oh, the Queen of All Testing–as the edwonks term her–will, at the drop of a hat, tell us about the magnificent accomplishments of NCLB (under her guidance, of course!), but if we listen closely, those accomplishments are always ephemeral and political, not actual help to actual teachers.
    Me? I could use a few printer cartridges and a new set of novels. But the DOE won’t be helping with that, will it? Unless mandatory testing will get those cartridges, encourage Johnny to pay better attention…. Come to think of it, what problem does mandatory testing solve that any competent teacher can’t already do more quickly, cheaply, effectively and easily? But Mrs. Smith isn’t competent! Oh sure, better call the feds to handle that one…