To Veto is to Improve

I’d like to think that everything I’ve learned about the legislative process, I learned from Saturday morning cartoons (and those five years working on Capitol Hill, I guess).  Just about everyone from my generation should know how a bill becomes a law, even if it is just from remembering Schoolhouse Rock.  But where is our song about the meaning of vetoing one’s signature domestic policy bill?

For those who missed it, President Bush, at his year-end briefing yesterday, tossed the biggest rhetorical softball possible to his critics and to those on the NCLB fence.  The President states that if he gets an NCLB reauthorization that weakens the law, he would veto it.

We may talk about lines in the sand, but Bush has now drawn a rhetorical Grand Canyon.  As other policymakers are debating multiple measures and increased funding and escape clauses, the President stands clear and emphatic in his position.  It’s improvement, or it is nothing at all.

This is an extremely bold stance from a lame duck president with low national approval rankings and little record on education these past couple of years.  And it is just the sort of bold statement the President needed to make if he is to save the one potential legacy piece of his domestic agenda.

With such a strong statement (albeit in a relatively throw-away media session), 2008 could be an interesting one, if we can get NCLB to the front of the policy agenda.  Why?

* Senator Kennedy continues to explore reforms to NCLB, and it is clear the law will change.  The big question is whether the law is strengthened, the law is watered down, or the law is tabled until a new president can put his imprint on the nation’s K-12 law.

* Advocates of the law have regained their stride.  For much of the year, NCLB critics have dominated the debate.  But we are starting to see cracks.  Earlier this week, Governors Thompson and Barnes of Aspen’s NCLB Commission had their oped on the law printed in The Washington Times.  Ed in 08 continues to push on the hows and whys presidential candidates should stand up to strengthen our nation’s commitment to K-12. 

* Recent NAEP and PISA scores have many talking about how we continue to improve the quality and measurement of education.  There is a growing hunger for proven, long-term improvement.

For years, Eduflack has opined on how NCLB could serve as President Bush’s true domestic policy legacy.  The changes he has made in how we teach, how we use research, what we expect of our teachers, and how we measure our schools will be with us for a long time.  The federal dollars spent on K-12 have never been higher.  And he has given federal education issues a singular voice under the banner of 2008.  Like it or not, the relationship between the federal government to K-12 public education is vastly different today compared to 2001.  And that relationship shows a vision from which Bush and his education team have never wavered, no matter the criticism, attack, or obstacle.

But if the President wants that legacy, if he wants an NCLB reauthorization he can sign, he needs to be both bold and proactive moving forward.  Now is the time for Bush (and Spellings) to step forward and clearly articulate those improvements they would agree to and those improvements that result in a better, stronger NCLB.

Like what?
* Provide schools and districts more flexibility to meet AYP, assuming their actions follow the spirit of the law
* Demand full funding for Reading First, while offering stringent oversight protections to ensure the funds are being used only on “gold standard” interventions with unquestioned research
* Take states to task for weakening their state standards just so they can claim proficiency on state tests
* Amend the HQT provisions to include provisions for effective teaching
* Ensure that real educators, policymakers, and the business community are involved in implementing NCLB 2.0 and evaluating its effectiveness
* Remind us of the primary audience for NCLB.  Yes, teachers and counselors and researchers are important.  But our primary focus is the student — how do we use the law to ensure all students are provided a high-quality education that prepares them for the high-skill, high-wage jobs of the 21st century.

I’m just an eduflack.  I’m sure there are a number of other ways we can strengthen the law, doing so in a way that will gain the President’s signature and the education community’s endorsement.  Mr. President, consider it my Christmas present to you.  No need for a thank you card, and no reason to consider returning it.


One thought on “To Veto is to Improve

  1. Seriously… Is there anything Bush hasn’t … won’t… veto? And how do you decide “weaken.” I thin the proficiency stick has to go.

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