The Bush administration loves federalism -- except when it doesnt. And one of times it doesn't is called No Child Left Behind. The administration has dumped on the states most of the requirements but relatively little of the funding from NCLB. When John Kerry raised the issue on the campaign trail, Bush swatted it away as another sign of Kerry's flip-flops: Having voted for No Child Left Behind, Kerry apparently gave up the right to be concerned with how the law was actually implemented.
There's a new round of criticism out now, and it's going to be a little harder for the White House to dismiss. A bipartisan task force created by the National Conference of State Legislatures issued its report on NCLB Wednesday. Task force co-chair Steve Saland, a Republican state senator from New York, says the law has allowed the federal government to stifle innovations in the states. "We believe the federal government's role has become excessively intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public education," Saland said in a statement accompanying the release of the report. "States that were once pioneers are now captives of a one-size-fits-all educational accountability system."
The task force makes four key recommendations:
(1) Remove obstacles that stifle state innovations;
(2) Fully fund NCLB and provide states with the financial flexibility they need to meet its goals;
(3) Remove the "one-size fits all method" for measuring student performance and replace it with "more sophisticated and accurate systems" that measure the growth of individual students; and
(4) Recognize that some schools have it harder than others, and that there are differences between schools in rural, urban and suburban areas.
The Bush administration is not amused. Ray Simon, Bush's assistant secretary for education, told USA Today that the report "could be interpreted as wanting to reverse the progress we've made." He said that kids "must be challenged to reach their full potential, not told to settle for someone else's lowered expectations. No Child Left Behind is bringing new hope and new opportunity to families throughout America, and we will not reverse course."
States' rights? What states' rights? For the Bush White House, Washington knows best -- at least sometimes.