Last week, David Broder and George Will - high priests of the Washington fourth estate - published side-by-side columns on education in the Washington Post. Both say important and useful things without, finally, coming to any real conclusions or recommendations. Broder noted that teachers and the general public are miles apart on how they view education reform, as revealed by a recent poll from ETS. A large plurality of parents support NCLB, but teachers overwhelmingly oppose it; a strong majority of parents say high school academic expectations are too low, while an equal percentage of teachers disagree. Most distressing, when asked whether all students should be held to a single high standard rather than differing standards for different types of students, "[m]ore than half of the parents favored the single standard, but only one-quarter of the high school teachers agreed." Broder notes that this disconnect is "a real barrier to progress." Well, yes, if these polling data really do represent the opinions of average teachers, we think that is a real barrier to progress. In a paired column, George Will noted how states are balking at NCLB's requirements, and seemed to agree with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings that they do so mostly out of shame at the poor performance that NCLB has uncovered. But embarrassment, Will notes, is of "limited power. . . . Spellings expects NCLB's high expectations to be substantially self-fulfilling because she 'thinks the best' of people - parents and school officials - at the local level. But if they really are as vigilant, diligent and susceptible to embarrassment as she assumes, why do we need the law?" It's hard to know, finally, what to make of either essay. Is Broder not willing to suggest which side - teachers or parents - is right about demanding a high, uniform standard for everyone? Is Will suggesting that the right incentives cannot overcome the resistance to raise standards? In both cases, if that's the conclusion, we respectfully dissent.
"Split over schools. . . ," by David Broder, Washington Post, June 23, 2005
". . . And responsibility," by George Will, Washington Post, June 23, 2005