Our Opinion: Make no mistake about federal involvement

News Tribune editorial

Why are people in public life so reluctant to admit a mistake?

The question resurfaces with the federal government’s insistence on reauthorizing a sweeping education law that 26 states, so far, have abandoned.

The question also is largely rhetorical. Elected officials fear admitting errors will scuttle re-election. So, instead, they strive to appear perfect, a pretense not consistent with being human.

With regard to the “No Child Left Behind” federal education law — championed by former President George W. Bush — the Obama administration’s reauthoritization effort appears inconsistent.

It is inconsistent with granting waivers to states and with Obama’s across-the-board insistence on blaming Bush.

No Child Left Behind poses two important issues: Is education a federal responsibility and are federal standards the best way to improve academic performance?

The answer to the first question — from a constitutional standpoint — clearly is no. The U.S. Constitution largely is silent on education, in contrast to the Missouri Constitution’s emphasis on providing and funding public education.

As a practical matter, however, Americans have raised concerns about statistics indicating U.S. students are academically inferior to their peers in other countries.

Public concerns attract candidates’ platforms and promises. And — for good or ill — education has been characterized as a national problem in need of federal mandates.

But Obama’s waiver option has been sought by and granted to more than half of the states, with another 10 applications pending.

Now, we get this confusing, convoluted statement from Education Secretary Arne Duncan: “A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as 26 states have now demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to act.”

But our kids haven’t been waiting; the federal law has been in effect for 10 years. And many states want out.

Failure to push for reauthorization, however, might be construed as an admission that the federal government is imperfect.

And we mustn’t have that.

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