NCLB: Carrot and Stick and Stick and Stick

With all the talk about the war for Cheney’s Filling Station in Iraq and other foreign intrigue, not many people outside of the public schools remember much about the disaster in the making called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). When it was first being proposed I didn’t pay much attention myself. I’m old enough to have seen five or six presidents declare themselves to be the "education president", pass a few bills that created little meaningful change, and then move on to stuff the polls actually cared about. The one common trait of all these federal "reform" efforts was the carrot and stick approach they took to force states and school districts to do their bidding. The carrot, of course, was always money and the stick was not sending money. But NCLB is different.

In addition to the stick of denying money, NCLB will also slap a Scarlet Letter* (probably an F) on all the schools and districts that don’t meet the "standards" approved by the feds. The result of a school being declared a failure, of course, will be a lot of parents lined up at the door demanding that their kids be moved to another school. Or that they be given vouchers to take their kids to a private school. Or that they get tax breaks to home school their kids. Or that they get money to start a charter school. Or any alternative to leaving their kids in public schools.

To my warped little conspiratorial mind that’s the underlying point of NCLB. Bush and his friends want to promote an alternative to the public school system, paid for by the public. There’s nothing wrong with the first part of that sentence (having an alternative), it’s the last part that bothers me. I still believe that a strong public education system, open to everyone, is as essential to a democracy as free speech and a free press. There are many things wrong with the system we have now and it needs a major overhaul. But tearing it apart and scattering the pieces is not the solution and should not be an option.

*This link has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. It goes to a musical production of the book written by some friends.