So far this century, a number of new laws have been enacted that have been heavily criticized. Among others are the Patriot Act, the Medicare bill that provides a paid prescription benefit, TARP, and Obama Care. My pet legislative peeve for today is the No Child Left Behind Act.
For some of the legislation that was mentioned earlier nothing can be done. No Congress would ever repeal the Paid Prescription benefit. Enough of our representatives and senators fear the wrath of the elderly, who cares what it does to the future of our country. The Patriot Act is contentious because in the mind of many, it trades a lot of liberty for a little extra safety. But this law is also difficult to rescind since the media would hammer any legislator with the audacity to vote to eliminate it, especially if a successful terrorist attack ensues. Obama would veto Obama Care repeal efforts, and TARP is pretty much a lost cause at this point.
But the new Congress could very well decide to either not re-authorize No Child Left Behind (NCLB) or at least heavily modify it to try to correct some of its flaws. The purpose of NCLB, when enacted soon after George Bush took office, was that if the nation set high standards and develops goals relevant to those measures, then states, in order to receive a financial windfall from the federal government, would develop individual standards that would enable the national goals to be achieved. Federal educational funding increased greatly in the decade since the law was implemented to help states achieve the goals.
What are some of the flaws? First, the law encourages states to manipulate the test results in order to achieve the desired results, and then get federal funding. For example, there is an incentive for states to reduce state standards, and then claim that, miraculously, a higher percentage of students are now meeting the standard. This increases their federal funding.
Secondly, rather than teaching to give students a broad view of the subject matter, teachers are encouraged to teach to meet the standardized test standards. So students unfortunately never learn to synthesize information. Instead, they learn to memorize a number of data points by rote, and then parrot these factoids back on the standardized tests.
Third, NCLB provides funding for students to meet minimum standards. So states behave rationally, and use their educational budget for this and eliminate any classes and programs that do not serve these ends. This amounts to a regression to the mean; all students are driven to be mediocre…and mediocrity in the Gulf States has no relationship to mediocrity in New England or the Plains states.
NCLB passed overwhelmingly in Congress when enacted into law. The reason for this is that representatives and senators from states that benefit from this law, who normally oppose all federal incursions into state policy, realized that the gravy train would be rolling into their states. So states that had a high number of schools that met the standards subsidize those states that had fewer schools that were adequate. This permits states that do not place a high value on public education to reduce state funding and instead replace it with the federal funding that they receive. So the cycle of incompetency continues, but now these states are able to pretend that they care about public education because the rest of the nation funds what little education is provided.
NCLB is a failure. Virtually all policy analysts know this to be true. The only thing keeping it alive is that it is pork-barrel spending that gravitates to the region of the country where politicians still brag about bringing home the bacon. Maybe, given the federal budget problems, something can be done to eliminate this boondoggle.