Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Carrots, sticks, and the separation of powers

Two very interesting articles out today:

First, from the LA Times' Nick Anderson, there's an assertion that Bush's proposed expansion of NCLB to high school might be very difficult to get through Congress. Many conservatives resent the federal reach into what has been a state and local domain, and many liberals won't approve any expansion until the funding levels Kerry talked so much about are met.

And second, from the Washington Post's Jay Mathews, an opinion piece about the absurdity of the "dangerous schools" provision of NCLB. So far, no schools outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and South Dakota have been labeled "persistently dangerous." If anybody believes that is an accurate reflection of reality, they need to be tested -- and I don't mean for reading or math.

The main point of Mathews' article is important: states and school districts can subvert NCLB to the point of rendering it meaningless. Madison and Co. set up our Constitution to allow for a separation of powers. Often, Congressional laws mean very little because the states are left to enforce them. Some provisions of NCLB, like the dangerous schools one, provide perfect examples.

What does it all mean? "Buy in" is extremely important. There's been a perception that the teachers and principals who oppose NCLB are whiny and petulant. It's generally not true (there are always, of course, exceptions). Teachers and principals generally want high standards and excellence. But they also want their professional opinions considered. To a large extent, they have not.

Anderson points out that Bush will try to work with the National Governor's Association to push through his expansion of NCLB. He would be smart to do so. But the Bushies and whatever governors go along with them would also be wise to reach out to local districts, too. They need to balance out the sticks, of which NCLB has plenty, with some carrots, of which it has precious few.

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