November 10, 2005
Utah a Window into Conservatism's Consternations
SALT LAKE CITY --
If you seek a window into conservatism's current consternations,
look into Utah. The nation's reddest state -- last year, and in
six of the last eight presidential elections, Utah was the most
Republican state -- is rebelling against President Bush's No Child
Left Behind law.
states have not challenged in some way NCLB's extension
of federal supervision over education grades K through 12, but
no state has done so with as much brio as Utah, which is insurrectionary
even though last year 87 percent of its schools fulfilled NCLB's
requirement of demonstrating ``adequate yearly progress.'' Utah,
you see, is unique.
Gov. Jon Huntsman,
45, is a seventh-generation Utahn. A former diplomat, he believes
what the proverb asserts, that ``a soft answer turneth away wrath.''
He says, tactfully, that perhaps Margaret Spellings, the U.S.
secretary of education, ``has not had time to read our legislation.''
with Washington do not constitute a casus belli but Huntsman
sounds somewhat like a South Carolinian, circa 1861, when he says
the issue is ``sovereignty.'' Furthermore, Huntsman says that
Washington is insensitive to Utah's ``pioneer ethos,'' and that
``we are always taken advantage of because we are a consistently
and reliably Republican state.''
The Bush administration
calls the 1,100-page NCLB law ``the most important federal education
reform in history.'' It is a federal attempt at large-scale behavior
modification, using sunlight to cause embarrassment and embarrassment
to prompt reforms. Standardized tests are supposed to produce
data that, when ``disaggregated,'' will reveal the different attainments
of particular schools and different cohorts of pupils. Unsatisfactory
results will, in theory, shame communities into insisting on improvements.
Many Utahns, however,
take umbrage at the idea that it is the business of Washington
-- a city that they think frequently embarrasses Americans --
to make them embarrassed about themselves. Their reasons suggest
why reforms devised for a continental nation often collide with
the nation's durable, and valuable, regional differences.
Not all Utahns are
Mormons. Almost 11 percent are Hispanics, heading for 20 percent
by 2020, and there is a significant population of Pacific islanders.
But the state's singular tone is set by the Mormons.
An earnest lot, they
are never more so than in their respect for the injunction to
be fruitful and multiply. They have large families -- the youngest
of the governor's six children is a 6-year-old daughter whom the
Huntsmans adopted four months after she was abandoned in a vegetable
market in China. Utahns' fecundity is the primary reason why theirs
is the youngest state: Its median age of 28 is an astonishing
eight years below the nation's median.
And among the 50
states, Utah has the second highest proportion of students grades
K through 12 in public schools, and more home-schooled children
than children in private schools. This is largely because of the
state's cultural homogeneity. Utah, writes Michael Barone in The
Almanac of American Politics, ``is the only state that largely
continues to live by the teachings of a church.'' Utahns believe
they have high community standards and that their public schools
and universities -- which receive 100 percent of the state's personal
and corporate income tax revenues -- adhere to them. They might
be wrong, but they rightly think that, under federalism, it is
their traditional right to be wrong.
often is a busybody, is not just being that with NCLB. Chester
Finn, one of America's foremost experts on school reforms, notes
that NCLB came from the seventh reauthorization of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act of 1965. According to Finn, NCLB says,
in effect, this: ``If you keep doing what you have been doing,
you won't get any better.'' The poor, says Finn, are still not
learning as they should, gaps between the cognitive attainments
of many traditionally disadvantaged groups are as wide as ever,
and a definition of insanity is: Doing the same thing over and
over and expecting the results to be different.
Utah takes its stand
against federal usurpation by standing on the 1979 federal law
that states: ``The establishment of the Department of Education
shall not increase the authority of the federal government over
education or diminish the responsibility for education which is
reserved to the states.''
But government metastasizes.
A new Education Department commission whose focus is higher education
is chaired by Charles Miller, a Texan who helped develop that
state's accountability program that was a precursor of NCLB. The
Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Miller ``insists he
is not out to regulate colleges, but only to hold them accountable
to taxpayers.'' Got it?
2005, Washington Post Writers Group