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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

“No Child” Left Behind

With one major element of the original Bush-Rove “compassionate conservatism” agenda under withering fire from the Right, how are conservatives feeling about the other big “compassion” item, No Child Left Behind? Not well, according to a piece in today’s Washington Post, whose subheadline is: “Conservatives Givng Vent to Doubts; Support for Opt-Out Proposals Grows.”
NCLB is up for reauthorization in Congress this year, and the initial debate offers a reminder that the education initiative in some ways involved compromises as complex and treacherous as those of the immigration bill. Originally cribbed from a Democratic proposal, NCLB basically constituted a grand bargain whereby states and school districts would obtain new federal money in exchange for a commitment to achieve tangible improvements in educational outcomes for disadvantaged students. The administration got conservatives on board by including federal support for private-school vouchers (dropped, predictably, during congressional negotiations to prevent wholescale Democratic defections), and also by giving states considerable leeway in setting their own goals (thus avoiding that conservative no-no, national educational standards).
Now conservatives want their voucher bauble back during reconsideration of NCLB (now more than ever a deal-killer for Democrats), and many are getting behind the op-out proposal, which would crucially undermine NCLB’s character as a national reform effort by letting states bail from the program’s key federal mandates.
None of this should be surprising in an atmosphere where many on the Right have convinced themselves that Bush’s and the GOP’s many problems are attributable to an abandonment of the True Cause. When it comes to education policy, many conservatives are probably looking back fondly to the Clinton era, when Republicans fantasized about abolishing the Department of Education and fought tooth and nail against anything that looked like national standards. And it’s worth noting that NCLB, like immigration reform, was the product of direct negotiations with Ted Kennedy, who retains an outsized position in conservative demonology.
So as the debate over NCLB gains steam later this summer, don’t be surprised if the Right attacks the initiative frontally, perhaps echoed by one or more of the major 2008 GOP presidential candidates. Among conservatives these days, the market for “compassion” has turned ferociously bearish.

One comment on ““No Child” Left Behind

  1. Glenn_Melancon on

    It’s not just hardcore Republicans who find NCLB horrible. I’m a history professor and my wife’s a school counselor. NCLB has allowed testing to take over the schools. All of the qualities that we want for an educated citizen are pushed aside. The standardized tests of NCLB give a false sense of security.


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