Time to Shut Down the U.S. Department of Education
Forty-eight of the fifty states have eagerly joined in the effort to improve schools by going for “Race to the Top” funds, declared Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a public radio interview last week.
Wrong! Forty-eight states that want part of the four-billion-plus in “Race to the Top” money have prostituted themselves in these hard economic times. Governors, state boards of education, and state legislatures have torn apart state standards, changed rules on charter schools, and redesigned teacher contracts in order to meet the mandates from the federal U.S. Department of Education. And states just learned that they will have to adopt and implement 100 percent of the national “core standards” in math and language—no half-way modified adoptions.
No, Secretary Duncan, the schools and state departments are not supporting the federal movement any more than a shopkeeper who pays protection money is “supporting” the racketeers. It is extortion pure-and-simple.
It is now obvious that “Race to the Top” criteria are the blueprint for the next revision of E.S.E.A., commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
In every survey that asks the right questions of parents and teachers, NCLB is considered a disaster. Teaching-to-the-test narrowed the curriculum. Creative school teaching switched to test-prep memorization. Assembly-line scripted teaching drove many professional teachers from the field and diverted college students from teaching.
Yet our senators and representatives in Washington, DC persist in supporting this more punitive renewal of NCLB. Despite assertions that the next version will “let up” on schools making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), Secretary Duncan will not drop the absolutely insane requirement that all children will be proficient by 2014. On top of that, school systems must change to a pay-for-scores salary scale.
Oddly, this will be accomplished by a federal government with no Constitutional jurisdiction in public schools. Any state or school district can completely ignore them as long as you take no federal tax money for various Title programs. Federal control of local and state school policy is bought as a “string” attached to federal lunch programs, special education allocations, etc.
The feds should no more impose a one-size-fits-all education on states, than the U.S. should adopt a worldwide international curriculum. Math and the science may be universal, but our students are not. Just as cultures and experiences vary across the world, they also vary across and within states. Provisions of NCLB written for big urban centers make no sense out here. (Parents whose local school does not make AYP can send their child elsewhere?—an impractical provision in western Kansas.)
Education policy should be made at the level where it is funded. And 85 percent of public school
funds come from state funds, a majority of most states’ budgets. U.S.D.E. currently has a budget of $63.7 billion in FY 2010 discretionary appropriations (including Pell Grants) and $96.8 billion in stimulus money. NCLB provides roughly 15 percent of a state’s education budget: $175 million in Kansas, $80 million in Nebraska, one billion for Texas.
Shutting down the U.S.D.E. will save much of this money. The lunch programs are a welfare program, not education. Their statistics branch is similar to the census. Such programs can move to other departments. Most of the rest is federalized education and should be shut down. We can’t afford the cost and we can’t afford the bad policies. Admittedly, some revenue saved by shutting down the U.S.D.E. and lowering federal taxes will have to be made up in state taxes.
President Reagan came into office with the goal of eliminating the U.S.D.E., but his Secretary issued the “Nation at Risk” report declaring schools to be in such bad shape that—if it was the result of another country’s actions—it would be an act of war.
Yet, No Child Left Behind has been the greatest case of educational sabotage in American history. No other government department operates primarily as a “strings attached” bribery system. It is time to shut down the U.S. Department of Education.