Wednesday, April 06, 2005

No Child Left Behind Lawsuits

When liberals and conservatives have discussions about President Bush's No Child Left Behind policy, it can be difficult to find a basis for a discussion. No Child Left Behind is a classic example of a bad government policy that's difficult to pin down, because the specifics of the plan and how it appears on paper are very different from the policy's actual incarnation. More accountability for public schools, increased funding, and standardized testing all sound like positive steps in improving education, but as we're watching the issue develop in real life, reality is much harsher.
The NY Times has a interesting article about a trend that has been a direct result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB): local school districts filing suit against the federal government for an unfunded mandate. School districts in Texas and Illinois have already filed suits against the federal government on the basis that NCLB requires annual standardized testing without providing funding to support that requirement. The Times article highlights that Connecticut will be the first state to sue the federal government over the testing mandate.

Connecticut has been a leader in education with standardized testing every other year since 1984, but found itself recently at odds with NCLB, which requires annual testing. NCLB would require Connecticut to spend $112.2 million expanding their educational testing programs while providing just over $70 million in funding to support it. You don't have to be a Noble Laureate in Math to see the discrepancies here.

Conservatives would say that this is a partisan ploy to attack the President. Why? Because that's easier than actually discussing the issue. Nevermind, that Connecticut M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, is leading the charge against NCLB. Rell had this to say in response to recently appointed Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, when Spellings perseverated on the importance of annual standardized testing:

"As Connecticut's governor, and as a parent who deeply values high-quality education for every child, I was offended by your commentary," Governor Rell's letter said. "You disparaged the knowledge and judgment of Connecticut educators who - with the full, bipartisan support of governors and legislatures over more than 20 years' time - have conducted a highly effective student testing program since 1984"

What I find most fascinating about NCLB, in particular, and recent Republican political policies, in general, is that again and again they seem to favor big government programs over policymaking at a state level, despite a long and proud history against a strong, centralized government. Not only do these Republicans spend tax dollars like drunken sailors on shore leave, but they favor allowing the federal government to have control and mandate over everything from education to when my feeding tube gets pulled.

The truth is that while many disparage the Democrats for having lost their way, as Democrats we have to find some solace in the fact that we didn't sell out our principles for political power and to help out our rich friends. Republicans have shown again and again that the "strong core values" of their party, including right to life, limited federal government, fiscal conservativism, and promoting individual freedom are not really all that core to their philosophy. Actions, like passing a law to completely circumvent judicial processes, supporting the death penalty, record deficits, and ineffective federal mandates to dictate the course of education speak louder than all the support a culture of life and control government power and spending rhetoric we've been hearing from hypocritical Republican assholes for years.

Think your party hasn't abandoned their core values in exchange for political and financial gain? Prove me wrong. Otherwise, I'm going to go back to writing about Miss Gothic Massachusetts.

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