Yesterday, it was my pleasure to visit Vermont and New Hampshire, and to experience that wonderful bracing feeling of New England in the fall. It brought back long ago memories, when I was a naive young Texan, freshly arrived from the Houston public schools, and got my first sight of giant trees turning gorgeous shades of red, yellow, and orange, and breathed in the cool, crisp smell of fall.

My sponsor yesterday was the Vermont School Boards Association, but I stayed across the state line in Hanover and spoke at Dartmouth College, which provided a large lecture hall (thanks to the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth). I met with students and school board members. I was introduced by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who spoke movingly of his school days. He was dyslexic, he said, and the principal told him and his parents that the school would do its best, but he would probably never learn to read and would never qualify for a profession. But one teacher, he said, took an interest in him, and she patiently taught him how to read. The lesson he drew from his experience is that we should never give up on any child.

At first, I thought that if every governor had had to overcome a learning obstacle as Governor Shumlin had, it would make them more appreciative of our public education system and the importance of dedicated teachers. But a local school board member reminded me of another sitting governor in a nearby state who also had a learning disability, yet is demoralizing teachers and destabilizing his state’s great public education system by favoring charter schools.

What’s so great about Vermont? Aside from gorgeous scenery, a beautiful climate, and friendly people, it is a state where people have a powerful sense of community. They care about their local community, about their children, about their state. They don’t brag, though they could: Vermont has the nation’s highest graduation rate (91.4%). Instead, they write and talk and think about how to do better. They want more parental involvement, more early childhood education, more technology in every classroom. They want to support their principals and teachers, and they want everyone to remember that the whole community must work together on behalf of its youngest members.

Vermont is smart. They did not apply for Race to the Top. They did not want all those federal strings attached to their local schools. They refused the NCLB waiver because Vermont was smart enough to see that meant more federal strings without any money. Vermont did not want to evaluate its teachers by the test scores of their students. They did not want charter schools to divide their communities. Vermont wants the big decisions made by the local community, not by Washington, D.C.

To show you how unusual Vermont is, Governor Shumlin picked Rebecca Holcombe, the director of teacher education at Dartmouth, to be state commissioner of education.

The state wants to strengthen communities and families. Yes, they still have to give tests, but they don’t talk all that much about test scores. NCLB requires that they do it, but it is clear that the state wants to strike the right balance between what schools must do, what families must do, what students must do, and how the legislature can help without domineering.

I didn’t hear any teacher-bashing.

The Mean Party is in charge in many states, and Congress can’t break free of its NCLB mindset.

But things are different in Vermont. It’s a beautiful state in many ways.