Right and left — Republican governors and teachers unions — have found rare ideological agreement on educational federalism.By a "failure of federalism", does Gerson mean that state and local governments weren't up to the task of educating children? Is he arguing that any time a president, or a president's speech writer, identifies an issue in which states are faltering he should step in with sweeping legislation, driven largely by assumption and ideology, to impose standards and controls over what had previously been a state issue?
The only problem: Education is a massive failure of federalism.
By the second half of the 20th century, America’s public schools were betraying many of the students in their charge, including the overwhelming majority of poor and minority students.How many is "many"? Gerson cannot seem to make up his mind about whether this was a broad-based crisis requiring across-the-board federal intervention, or if this was a problem largely isolated to inner cities and poverty-stricken areas, in which case broad-based federal intervention would be both unnecessarily intrusive and unnecessarily expensive. Gerson focuses on race and poverty, suggesting that the only case he sees is the former, which should mean that he would oppose a NCLB-type law. He was the one who invoked federalism - if the federal government can achieve its goals with the use of a tack hammer, why employ a sledgehammer?
Gerson shares this gem:
It is true that highly centralized governmental systems can be arrogant and mediocre. Public education demonstrates that a highly decentralized governmental system can also be arrogant and mediocre, particularly when parents are denied objective information about educational outcomes.So, yes, government can be arrogant and mediocre at all levels. Thanks for sharing. The historic thought with education, though, is that it was a local government issue, with local school boards overseeing local schools, responding to local needs and concerns. Some fail? That's inevitable. But why does Gerson believe that success is more likely following federal intervention, or that involvement in public school policy is an appropriate exercise of federal power?
Gerson whines that people didn't make enough of an effort to improve or refine the law, which has now been in effect for more than a decade. One wonders why Gerson has not taken a similar stance in relation to, say, any major Obama Administration initiative. "Don't complain that it's misguided or oversteps the proper role of the federal government, work to fix it!" He sneers that teachers who suggest that the law's "obsessive focus" on standardized testing takes the joy out of teaching are in fact motivated by a desire to avoid accountability. His preferred solution? Less federalism, more direct federal control - which does seem to be consistent with his tenure with the Bush Administration. Never admit a mistake and, when a policy appears to be failing, double down.
Why is NCLB so unpopular? Because it exposes the failure of adults in the lives of children. And the bipartisan response of many governors, educators and legislators — alarmingly, predictably — is to excuse the adults.Actually, NCLB is unpopular because it is a poorly conceived law that has wasted an incredible amount of money and didn't work. If it had been modified to the point that it might have "worked" it would be unrecognizable. To say that the conditions imposed by the Obama Administration are an improvement over NCLB would be to damn them with faint praise, but Congress hasn't acted, Congress won't act, so there you go.
As Yong Zhao sarcastically notes, Gerson wants us to follow the lead of the wrong nation (and the Common Core Standards initiative is largely "more of the same"):
America has almost caught up with China, and actually in some areas surpassed it. Thanks to No Child Left Behind, America can now claim to have even more frequent high stakes standardized tests than China. It can also be proud to be more serious than China about the test results because it uses test scores to break up schools, fire school leaders, and publicly humiliate teachers, while China does not have the guts to do any of that. China only gives those schools and teachers with high test scoring students some extra money. America has also successfully reduced time on nonsense school activities such as music, arts, sports, science, social studies, lunch time, and field trips, something it has wanted to do since the 1950s when surpassing the former Soviet Union was the aspiration. And the silly Chinese are working hard to push those nonsense activities into schools.Perhaps Gerson can reflect on the past decade of experience and share some ideas for how NCLB might be improved or, better yet, replaced with something that doesn't confuse success on standardized tests with quality education. I'll grant, his chosen approach is easier - pretend that parents and communities aren't part of the equation, treat teachers with disdain, and stick with a failed policy because if you do it for longer, or do it harder, it might magically start working.
Congress has a playground right in front of it, through which it can demonstrate how federal intervention, programs and initiatives can turn around a school district and leave no child behind, the D.C. Public Schools. Here's a wild idea, how about asking Congress to lead by example, demonstrating in D.C. that its ideas and initiatives can work, then asking states to sign on to proven techniques for improving troubled schools? If D.C. won't agree to participate, pick an inner city, any inner city - you'll find one that's willing to take a ton of federal money to reinvent itself.
That seems more sensible than doubling down on failure, doesn't it? Better than finger-pointing, complaining that a bad law would work if somebody else fixed it? In Gerson's eyes, when are any of the self-described "adults" of the Bush Administration to be held responsible for their actions and inaction?