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Remembering What Hillary Used To Say About NCLB

Georgebushcryingbabythumb Just another reminder that Clinton (like Obama) didn't make much fuss about NCLB until recently -- and may or may not dislike it as much as their supporters want to think: 

"When the Senate passed the legislation in 2001," says this Congressional Quarterly blog post (Another Thing Clinton Has Always Hated), "Clinton was one of its biggest boosters....Clinton was deeply involved in the debates over the bill, from start to finish..When the Senate approved the final version of the bill, Clinton praised it not only for the teachers provision, but also for its increase in federal aid to New York schools."

Reading what she said then, it's hard to imagine that she's all that against NCLB now, no matter what she says on the stump.  Not that much has changed, other than the political circumstances.  I don't think anyone but voters think that she'd undo it all that much.  Hell, she doesn't even fool the NEA.

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I'm surprised that there hasn't be more comparisons made between Hillary's campaign and the remaining liberal supporters of NCLB-type accountability. Both came out of a 1990s effort to show that Dems can be tough, and both are swimming against the more hopeful tides that are propelling Obama. And worse, neither ever admit a mistake.

Hillary's people fight every daily spin cycle, continually spinning anything and everything no matter how trivial. They continually sacrifice her longterm prospects for shortterm surges to keep her camapign alive. And the only thing that can save her is political insiders, and every day that seems more unlikely.

Although the blogs are a wonderful medium for discussion and exchange of ideas, the remaining liberal accountability hawks in the edusphere follow the same nonstop spin. Even when the term "NCLB" is not used in a newspaper article on education, or especially when the law is not mentioned, they attack journalists for not explaining how opponents of the law are wrong. They continually demand "dog bites man" stories of schools that haven't narrowed the curriculum or given in to test prep. Opponents of NCLB are not the loyal opposition but anti-reformers and "special interests."

I do not disparage the sincerity of people who believe that test-driven accountability must be the locomotive of educational change. Some people love numbers, and in the late 90s, before Enron, it seemed like the digital world was repealing old laws of economics and other social relationships. I doubt there are many, however, that would believe that data-driven accountability is the key to reform if they were just arguing educational evidence or public policy. Few people would be so devoted to accountability unless they saw it as essential for political success. But as Richard Rothstein has shown, there are many more sophisticated and effective methods of accountability that are emerging in the business world.

So, I welcome the headlines cited by David Hoff asking whether NCLB is doomed. I'm glad that politicians are listening and condemening the law (making it less likely that political insiders can save a failed "brand"). And I hope that everyone realizes that the economy will make NCLB support even more untenable. Most people are concentrating on the budget and how states will have less money, but that's the smaller piece of the puzzle. When the economy drops like this, low income student performance will always drop with it. If policy makers/activists do not understand that, then they need to become more familar with the realities of poor children and schools.

What I read in the blogs is the logic of "we lose money on each thing we sell but we make it up on volumes." Even the most devoted supporters of NCLB have to acknowledge that the law's accountability provisons are primitve and riddled with loopholes, and the billions we spent have produced modest gains. Their response is to blame others and to demand minor accountability changes that they concede are very modest and which would have little practical effect. Presumably, spending more on these jury-rigged systems, that reveal nothing but more bad news (to shame the special interests), will pry billions of more dollars from taxpayers. Someday over the rainbow, a viable accountability system would then emerge.

I have to ask a seemingly naive question. Why attack teachers and their unions? We know why Bill Clinton executed a mentally retarded inmate and did his Sista Soldja routine. But why not attack firefighters unions? or social workers? or accountants? Obviously, a political decision was made to attack somebody. Its hard to see how the strategy of attacking teachers and their unions could help students, but its political attractiveness was obvious.

So, we have to show why the scourched earth politics of the 90s is no longer essential. If we can agree on that point, inumerable compromises would become apparent.

I think that the teachers unions volunteered.

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