There wasn’t a single question on the No Child Left Behind Act or federal education policy during the Republican presidential debate in Columbia, S.C., last week. But a number of the 10 candidates managed to inject the NCLB law into the discussion anyway.
The May 15 debate hinted at the division within the Republican Party over whether the law amounts to an unwarranted expansion of the federal role in education or brings greater accountability to K-12 schools.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he originally subscribed to one point of view, but then he shifted to the other.
“Once upon a time, I said I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education,” Mr. Romney said during the 90-minute debate at the University of South Carolina. “That was my position when I ran for Senate in 1994. That’s very popular with the [GOP] base.”
But during his stint in the Massachusetts statehouse, Mr. Romney said he witnessed “the impact the federal government can have holding down the interest of teachers’ unions and instead putting the interest of parents and teachers first.”
“I like testing in our schools,” he added. “I think it allows us to get better schools, better teachers.”
But some of the other GOP candidates criticized the NCLB law—and their rivals for supporting it when Congress passed it with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in 2001.
“I don’t think the Republican position ought to be more bureaucracy,” said Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who voted against the measure. “I mean, why did we double the size of the Department of Education?”
Although former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was largely silent about the law during the debate, he made it the subject of a campaign video, posted last month on YouTube, the popular site for Web video.
“The federal No Child Left Behind Act is often misunderstood and unfairly maligned as a total federal intrusion,” Mr. Huckabee says in the video. “As long as the states are allowed to develop their own benchmark exams to determine the manner in which they create standards, and are aware of the consequences of failure to adhere to them, there’s a value in having a national effort to at least set high standards.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 23, 2007 edition of Education Week