It is startling to realize, as we consider the legacy of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, that this very liberal, very partisan Democrat was key to the consensus that has unified the two parties on education policy for the last two decades.
I was slow to pick up on this. It wasn’t until I looked carefully at the presidential candidate positions in 2000 that I understood how much the two parties agreed on how to make public schools better. George W. Bush and Al Gore were very different people, but their education platforms, once you got past their favorite wedge issue, vouchers, were nearly identical. Both wanted to use test scores to make schools accountable for improving achievement. If Gore had gotten to the White House, he would have produced a law similar to No Child Left Behind.
For some time I have attributed this to the good sense of education experts on both sides of the aisle. The people guiding the candidates on this issue have seen what works in schools, particularly in low income neighborhoods, and have rescued their parties from the kind of anti-testing rhetoric that was so popular with teacher union leaders.