Forget The Carrot, Whale With The Stick

No Child Left Behind Is A Failure, And Those Who Voted Not To Fund It Should Be Held Responsible

Jerry Ortiz y Pino
5 min read
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The first time we fall for the ol’ “bait ’n’ switch” tactic, we should justifiably feel angry at the con man who tricked us. But if we fall into the same snare a second time, it really is ourselves we should be pissed at. And subsequent pratfalls ought, at some point, to produce at least a wary kind of learning–either that or we deserve whatever we’re being dished.

This bit of common sense is offered on the eve of the 2006 elections as a reminder of just how many ways the current national administration has fooled us. If we don’t vote the Congressional rascals out
this year, for crying out loud, we relinquish any claim to yelling “foul” when the full extent of their sleight of hand is made obvious in the weeks ahead.

Rocket science isn’t necessary to tally the worst of the Bushite offenses: Iraq, the squeezing of the poor to finance the rich man’s fat-cat tax bonanza, the Patriot Act, the doughnut hole-riddled Medicare prescription drug obscenity … all are textbook examples of the “promise them one thing and deliver a pale imitation” first perfected by P.T. Barnum.

I’d like to add another to that lengthy list, one sometimes identified as a “progressive, bi-partisan reform” measure: the No Child Left Behind Act, which has turned our public education system upside down. NCLB is worse than a pale imitation of what we were promised; it’s actually a Trojan Horse that has unleashed a thousand saboteurs loose on America’s little red schoolhouses. And they mean real harm.

Because Sen. Ted Kennedy was duped into supporting the original version, it is considered bad form in Washington for Democrats to attack NCLB. In fact, most commentary on it by Democrats begins with the disclaimer, “I really support No Child Left Behind, but …”

What should always be noted at this stage in any discussion of NCLB is that the Bush administration secured Democratic support from legislators like Kennedy by promising that the heavy-handed accountability provisions of the bill would be balanced by providing our schools with serious cash to enable them to comply.

Everyone acknowledged that reform doesn’t come cheap … until it came time to appropriate the money to set the machinery in motion. Then memories were conveniently shortened. The same GOP lawmakers who’d been moaning for years about “unfunded mandates” crushingly placed on the states’ backs by Democratic administrations turned amnesiac when NCLB funding was on the table.

The net result was predictable:
Only the accountability provisions remain; the enabling funding to help meet those provisions is woefully inadequate. Forget the carrot, whale away with the stick. Dangle the bait—and when they bite, switch to a shriveled substitute. The Home Shoppers Network would have gone broke years ago with this strategy.

But amazingly, state educational bureaucrats everywhere, including those from New Mexico, are intent on cramming this square peg into the round holes of our public school systems. It’s as if they feel challenged professionally to make it work when it is patently impossible to do so without adequate resources.

“Stay the course!” is the mantra—even as the ship sinks steadily beneath the water.

Well, it’s true that there’s no point in professional educators wasting their valuable wind and thousands of acre-feet of note paper trying to persuade the Bush administration to spend the money on our schools that NCLB promised. Those dollars have already been flushed away in Iraq, Afghanistan and into the offshore investments of America’s super-rich.

Save your breath and your copy paper, teachers, administrators and parents. Make an investment instead in turning as many of Bush’s Congressional supporters out of office as you can on Nov. 7. That’s the only way to put an end to the crazed bait ’n’ switchers’ weird little game of make believe.

Starting with Heather Wilson makes sense. I don’t know if she’s smarter than Patsy Madrid or not; if she is a carpetbagger or not; if she lied to Larry Barker six years ago or not; or if she winked at Congressman Foley’s predilection for teenage pages or not–none of those things really matter.

It is enough to know that she votes with Bush to underfund NCLB, so she should be held accountable, just the way a public school and its teachers are held accountable for their “failings” (real or imagined) by that law.

Wilson has had six years to act responsibly about adequately funding this law. That’s a longer leash than school principals and teachers get. Her tenure in the Congress has seen any number of egregious misrepresentations made by the administration to the public on a wide array of issues. She would like to be thought of as an independent Republican (whatever that is) and a sort of maverick who votes her own conscience.

Well, on education issues at least, you couldn’t squeeze a piece of carbon paper between Congresswoman Wilson and the Bush administration. And that position is way, way out of kilter with the needs of New Mexico’s schools and the students and families they serve.

We need a Congress that will either appropriate the money to make NCLB a reality or that will repeal or seriously amend it. Anything less is just perpetuating yet another instance of consumer fraud.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail

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