Add education to a long list of federal policy issues that vex and perplex today’s fractured Republican Party. It’s not so troublesome at the state level, where dozens of GOP governors have, over the years, proven their mettle by promoting higher standards, greater accountability, and wider parental choice. But in Washington, Republican presidents and members of Congress have struggled mightily to find an approach that both embraces reform and respects a limited federal role.
We need to be more humble about what Washington can do.
Photo by The Associated Press
That’s the right needle for Republicans to thread. Though Democrats never admit it, Washington is clumsy at best, and wildly incompetent at worst, when it comes to improving schools from the shores of the Potomac. That should surprise no one—at least three levels of bureaucracy separate the secretary of education from actual classrooms. Federal carrots and sticks, no matter how carefully grown or carved, can’t overcome this fundamental challenge.
Yet abdication isn’t a realistic option for Republicans, either. Partly that’s because of politics. Voters—parents especially—want to hear leaders talk about how they will fix our schools. Most aren’t interested in lectures on the finer points of federalism. Education reform, moreover, is one of the best answers Republicans can offer to tough questions of social mobility at home and competitiveness abroad.
Then there’s the practical...