Monday, January 09, 2006

Parting Liberal Waters Over 'No Child Left Behind'

Kudos to Bill Taylor, who is, sadly, virtually alone in the Civil Rights establishment in having the courage to embrace NCLB.

To any listener willing to hear him, Mr. Taylor will portray his support of No Child Left Behind as a position consistent with his career. He has kept saying so as many of the liberal Democrats who initially supported the law have disparaged it as being too rigid and inadequately financed (the law remains more popular with centrist Democrats). Mr. Taylor has kept saying so even as it was revealed a year ago that the Bush administration paid the syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams to promote the law.

WHILE working in Lyndon B. Johnson's administration as staff director of the Commission on Civil Rights, Mr. Taylor recalled, he saw firsthand the utility of backing up laudable values with tough enforcement. Only a decade after the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education did Southern schools start to comply, he said, because only then did Washington threaten to withhold federal dollars from districts that defied the integration order.

In the desegregation program in metropolitan St. Louis, Mr. Taylor has seen 12,000 black students who attend suburban schools record higher marks and better graduation rates than their peers left behind in the city.

"These suburban schools are accountable to their communities," Mr. Taylor told the audience at Teachers College. "They have high standards and the students respond to those standards. And if a teacher or a principal is falling short, you know they will be gone. That's not the case in most central-city schools."

January 4, 2006
On Education

Parting Liberal Waters Over 'No Child Left Behind'

WILLIAM L. TAYLOR rang in 2006 among the Nobel laureates, heads of state and sundry muck-a-mucks gathered in Charleston, S.C., for Renaissance Weekend, the mother of all networking events. In the weeks ahead, as America marks Martin Luther King's Birthday and Black History Month, he will be speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and the City Club of New York. His memoir, "The Passion of My Times," (Carroll & Graf, 2004) is about to be reissued in paperback.

All this activity for a septuagenarian reflects Mr. Taylor's stature as a grandee of the civil rights movement. His career as a lawyer, lobbyist and government official spanned nearly a half-century. He wrote the legal brief that persuaded the Supreme Court in 1958 to order the integration of Little Rock's public schools, and four decades later, his wavy black hair having long turned into an unruly gray cumulus, he was in court fighting to preserve a desegregation program for the St. Louis region.

In the past several years, though, Mr. Taylor has added a more controversial line to his résumé, as a public advocate for the No Child Left Behind law. From conferences of state legislators to conclaves at education schools, he has defended a statute closely associated with President Bush, parting ways with many of his lifelong allies on the left and bewildering the audiences that would otherwise venerate him.

He acknowledged as much when he strode to the lectern one evening last fall at Teachers College at Columbia University, a redoubt of progressive education.

"I want to say to the skeptics, if there are any in the room," he began, and some awkward chuckles sounded from the 70 graduate students in attendance. By the time Mr. Taylor had made his presentation and three faculty members had offered formal responses, by the time an event scheduled for one hour had passed two, the bonhomie was in short supply.

 Subscribe in a reader