Education Opinion

When it Comes to Federal Education Policy, Fred Thompson Probably Speaks for the Republican Party

September 18, 2007 2 min read

The Associated Press caught the following remarks on No Child Left Behind from politician/actor Fred Thompson, who most pundits say is working hard to be cast in a role made famous by actor/politician Ronald Reagan.

“We’ve been spending increasing amounts of federal money for decades, with increasing rules, increasing mandates, increasing regulations.... It’s not working.... No Child Left Behind - good concept, I’m all for testing - but it seems like now some of these states are teaching to the test and kind of making it so that everybody does well on the test - you can’t really tell that everybody’s doing that well. And it’s not objective...”

He said his message to states would be, “We expect you to get objective testing done and publicize those tests for the local parents and for the local citizens and suffer the political ramifications locally if things don’t work out right.... If you don’t like what’s going on, don’t get in your car and drive by your school board and maybe drive by the capitol and get on an airplane and fly to Washington and say, ‘I don’t like the way the school down the street is being run.’”

Whatever you think of the substance of Thompson’s comments (and as a defender of today’s NCLB, I don’t think much of them), what he said is much closer to the historical locus of Republican Party policy on the federal role in public education than George Bush’s highly intrusive No Child Left Behind.

There are many things about George W. Bush worthy of criticism, but I believe he was the only prominent Republican who, as a matter of conscience, understood school accountability as a matter of civil rights. So far he is the only GOP leader who could turn that idea into the political leverage required to move (shame?) Democrats who matter in federal education policy to accept a law with accountability measures as strong as those in NCLB I.

Right or wrong, the President spent every bit of his political capital on war. Fred Thompson is one of many ready to step into Reagan’s shoes, and no one wants W’s. Other things being equal, and I hope they are not, my guess is that he’s expressed the direction the Republican Party will take on federal education policy as George W. Bush exits the stage.

What it means is that opponents to NCLB I are likely to get a better NCLB II if they wait until after the 2008 election, no matter which party is in the White House. I’m no opponent, but that’s what I’d do.

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