NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education Bill Pleases Conservatives, Liberals Alike

January 16, 2002

The new education bill gave liberals their wish for more federal involvement -- though with less money than they wanted. Conservatives took the federal involvement in stride, says the New York Times' Richard Rothstein, because they saw a chance to impose their values on the nation's schools.

  • For example, the new law substitutes the term "achievement" for the word "performance" used previously -- which Republicans say ensures that students will evaluated only by standardized tests in core academic subjects, whereas performance opened the door for evaluating students in several ways, some subjective, and on various skills.
  • There is more money for training history teachers -- provided it is "traditional" American history.
  • The language of the bill seems to soft-pedal the teaching of evolution, only stating that teachers must "help students understand the full range of views on controversial subjects."
  • Sex education programs must emphasize abstinence, and the Department of Education is prohibited from surveying students about their sexual behavior or attitudes.

Observers believe liberals and moderates were so eager to get federal money for urban schools they acceded to provisions they found offensive, hoping the ideological intent of the bill will be softened in Education Department regulations.

But, experts add, both sides are taking a chance. Despite getting money for urban schools, liberals could be faced with future administrations or courts that could strictly enforce the conservative wording of the law. Conservatives, on the other hand, have now opened the door for far greater federal involvement in education in the future -- something they have fought against in the past.

Source: Richard Rothstein, "The Weird Science of the Education Law," New York Times, January 16, 2002  


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