The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Bush's education plan:
No business left behind

Mar 1, 2004

State governors and legislators, both Republican and Democrat, of at least 13 states, have begun to question their participation in the federal "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) Act of 2001. For example, the Republican chair of the Virginia Education Committee called the act "unworkable," "utopian nonsense."

The act, with its catchy name, is a Trojan horse, designed to tear apart the public school system and throw the children piecemeal into the arms of private contractors. The act sets impossible standards for yearly improvement in all public schools – all must show year-to-year improvement in all of 37 different measures, including requirements so impossible as to expect 100% of all special-education students to become proficient at reading at grade level, each and every year.

As schools fail to produce these miracles, the NCLB act requires school districts to pay – out of their own funds – either for tutoring services (by private contractors) or vouchers to transfer to other public schools. After 5 years in the "failing" category, a school must be put into "alternative governance," such as converting to private "for-profit" hands.

Although NCLB is a federal law, there are no federal dollars provided to pay for tutors and vouchers. Nor are there any similar draconian educational requirements for the "alternative" private or religious schools which ultimately might receive students from "failing" schools.

This Trojan horse will quite rapidly eat up the public schools' funds by forcing more and more public schools into the "failing" category, thereby forcing public school systems to fund privately run schools.

If the government truly wanted no child to be left behind, the way to do it is no secret. Legislative archives and university libraries are stacked to the rafters with studies on how to improve education. All conclude the same things: small class size, personal student attention, comfortable and secure surroundings, stimulating educational aids and equipment, and good student nourishment are the keys to helping students learn well.

In other words – more money. Paying more for children's education makes it possible to provide a better education. Paying less guarantees a worse education. And the NCLB act is all about paying less to the public schools. Students in the less wealthy districts will receive progressively less and less education, because more of the money will go into private hands.

Siphoning funding from public schools toward private "alternatives" is a program that would gladden the heart of any 17th-century baron. The wealthy have always resisted spending state money on education for workers' children. In fact, we have public schools today only because earlier generations of laboring people fought for them beginning with the workingmen's parties in more than 60 New England cities as early as l834, coming up through the period of Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, when the goal of the freed slaves and poor whites was to have a public school system, state-funded, secular, open to every child without exception and where every child's attendance was mandatory.

Public schools are an acquisition won by laboring people. We need to fight to improve them – and keep them.