In looking for someone to blame for Bush's NCLB mess, Will goes all the way back past Bill Clinton, through Jimmy Carter, to Lyndon Johnson, whose support for the original ESEA in 1965 made it possible, obviously, for George Bush to totally screw it up 40 years later:
NCLB was passed in 2001 as an extension of the original mistake, President Lyndon Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which became law in the year of liberals living exuberantly -- 1965, when Great Society excesses sowed the seeds of conservatism's subsequent ascendancy. ESEA was the first large Washington intrusion into education K through 12.Actually, George, it was President Eisenhower (R) who got the federal "intrusion" rolling in 1958 with the National Defense Education Act. And yes, 1965 was an exuberant time for anyone concerned with civil rights, human rights, and gender equality. And yes, it was the "excesses" of ESEA's dollars that enticed many a racist governor to finally desegregate public schools and to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As for conservatism's subsequent ascendancy, Lyndon Johnson knew that his actions on civil rights would mean a political sea change in the South and everywhere else that racism trumped common sense. By 1980, most of the Southern Democrats who had not already had a political conversion became Reagan Democrats for life. How do you think we ended up with an ever-poorer-and-oppressed white working class that votes consistently to elect those whose primary social agenda is based on tax cuts for the wealthy? Johnson knew his decision would cost him the South, but that did not stop him from doing the right thing. Such an act of courage could never happen among today's covey of political cowards.
And, of course, George Will is intent to reverse the responsibility of the Republican Congress for NCLB in 2001:
NCLB was supported by Republicans reluctant to vastly expand that intrusion but even more reluctant to oppose a new president's signature issue.The fact is that the the Republican Congress was ecstatic when Bush came to town with his testing plan that would offer school vouchers to children in schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress, as well as a plan to redirect Title I money intended for the poor into block grants that governors could carve up as they saw fit. When these two components were struck from NCLB for the last time in 2001, it did take take some cheerleading by Bush water carriers like Sen. Judd Gregg to revive the disappointed Republicans, but in the end the corporate tutoring provision and the charter school sanction that would result from impossible performance targets were enough to assure victory for Bush. From Elizabeth Debray's book, quoting Judd Gregg:
“Well, the supplemental services [tutoring] are a foot under the door for vouchers. They’re going to show that these schools aren’t working properly, and we’ll finally be able to show that the schools aren’t doing well. The assessments are going to prove the same thing” (Debray, 2006, p. 96).So where is George Will wanting Federal policy to go now? Backwards, of course. Now that a Blue national tidal wave is predicted for '08, George Will and the other protectors of privilege are eager once more to argue for the unassailable virtues of federalism and to get the the federal government out of the business of education reform. More block grants and tax cuts, please. As Will would seem to have it for federal policy, if you can't do anything bad, don't do anything at all.