EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appeared in the March 8, 2004, issue of National Review.
When George W. Bush hit the campaign trail in 2000, Republicans ranked more than 20 points behind Democrats on which party best handled the issue of education. In 2002, Republicans were delighted to find that that deficit had vanished — thanks to President Bush's advocacy for his landmark education-reform plan, No Child Left Behind. Today, however, while the president's personal ratings still have him at the head of the class on education, his fellow Republicans have been left behind: Democrats once again enjoy a double-digit advantage on education, and the plan's bipartisan support didn't survive the Iowa caucuses. To curry favor with many unhappy school officials and the teachers' unions, Democratic candidates have been championing local control of schools and hammering the same reform plan they voted for. Ted Kennedy, whose crucial support made Bush's school-accountability proposal a reality, refuses to be accountable for its effects, angrily blaming Republican parsimony for shortchanging his vision. If opposition to the reform grows and the sweeping plan fails to deliver on its ambitious goals, Democrats will strengthen their advantage on education issues — and Republicans alone will be held responsible for the most unpopular regime Washington ever attempted to impose on our public schools.
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