Federal aid to education is comparable to currying water in a leaky bucket from your own reservoir to a big central well. What is left of the water is poured into the well, and then those in charge apportion you some water in that same leaky bucket and you bring it home. Besides losing what water is spilled on the two-way trip, you eventually find yourself being told what to do with the water that remains--although it was your own water in the beginning.
--The Freeman, February 1961
Recently, one quarter of the nation's states complained loudly to the federal government about being "told what to do" with their remaining "water" for education. Twelve states passed resolutions criticizing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA), and 138 Pennsylvania school superintendents protested the Act's provisions. Regarding this outcry, Susan Aspey, a Department of Education spokeswoman, smugly stated: "One hundred or so superintendents and a handful of state resolutions, only a few of which have actually passed both houses, hardly qualify as a widespread rebellion.... It's a sign the law is working." Talk about putting a positive spin on things!
Despite Aspey's confidence, the Bush administration decided recently to "relax" some of the NCLBA's rules. In calculated fashion, the administration hopes to mollify many of the state legislatures that have complained before they realize the true issues at stake.
Why is it that so many states--including Utah, Idaho, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Arizona, Minnesota, Indiana and Wisconsin--are up in arms? Writing for the Congressional Quarterly, Anjetta McQueen calls the NCLBA the "most ambitious overhaul ever of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act." In the NCLBA, the federal government is sues mandates associated with virtually every aspect of elementary and secondary education, from test performance to teacher quality to school safety to record keeping.
According to President George W. Bush, these mandates will not destroy local control. "The federal government will not micromanage how schools are run," he said when he signed the NCLBA into law on January 8, 2002. "We believe strongly--we believe strongly the best path to education reform is to trust the local people. And so the new role of the federal government is to set high standards, provide resources, hold people accountable, and liberate school districts to meet the standards."
But many of those affected by the NCLBA don't feel very liberated. Bill Weinberg, who quit the Kentucky Board of Education in November 2003 in protest of the NCLBA, calls it "an unwarranted intrusion into state and local control of schools." And James Dillard, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, led the House in passing an anti NCLBA resolution that calls the Act "the most sweeping intrusion into state and local control of education in the history of the United States."
Much of the criticism of the Act, from both Democrats and Republicans, centers around the same basic issues, such as:
* lack of funding;
* "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) and school performance ratings:
* one-size-fits-all, unrealistic requirements regarding test participation and school transfers; and
* teacher qualification requirements.
Unfortunately, those myopically calling for amendments and changes to the NCLBA to address such details are missing the heart of the matter--the unconstitutional nature of the Act itself. Oklahoma state Representative Bill Graves (R), for one, …