No Child Left Behind was recently highlighted by two conservative columnists, David Brooks and George Will. In the Times, Brooks tweaked NCLB by arguing that the future is in human capital - that is, the cultural, social, moral, cognitive, and aspirational aspects of each individual. Skills and knowledge, "the stuff measured by tests," are but one part of this. Therefore, he reasons, nothing is gained by pouring money into huge federal programs such as NCLB and treating students "as skill-acquiring cogs." Instead, the instructional emphasis must come at a personalized and local level through demanding teachers who help transform all aspects of students' lives. But trouble can brew when local entities assert their autonomy. George Will examines the growing NCLB tension between state and federal authorities which, in some instances, is pitting Republicans against each other. His case-in-point is Utah, the nation's most reliably red state, which has, nonetheless, rebelled against President Bush's NCLB legislation. Conservatives believe in high standards, Will says, but they also believe in the principles of federalism, which give states significant autonomy over their internal governance (education included). Both pundits raise significant questions. Answering them is the tricky part.
"Psst! 'Human Capital,'" by David Brooks, New York Times, November 13, 2005 (Times Select subscription required)
"In Utah, No Right Left Behind," by George Will, Washington Post, November 11, 2005