The Federal Government ’s takeover of education followed the usual pattern.
First, politicians complained that local school districts didn’t have enough
money. They decided the federal government could help in a “limited” way —
without interfering with local educational policies.
Secondly, education has become more about playing politics than educating our kids. Over the last forty years or so, we’ve seen a huge increase in the amount we’re spending on education — the bulk of which goes to salaries and benefits and an increasingly bloated administration.
When you’re getting less out of what you put in, something’s wrong.
As with every other area they touch, politicians become alarmed when
federal education money isn’t spent in the way they want. So the federal
government has long since attached rules and more rules and still more rules to
its subsidies — even though only about 10% of the money spent on education
comes from the federal government.
Have federal money and federal control helped American students learn more?
Hardly. As the next graph shows, learning, as measured by Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores, has steadily declined.
Teaching non-academic topics is cause of declining SATs
The federal government’s heavy hand transformed the government schools
and the private schools that became dependent upon it. Yesterday’s schools
focused on reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography. Today’s schools
spend much more time teaching children:
· To be citizens of the world,
· To be sensitive to people who are different from themselves,
· To embrace transgender issues
· To report their parents if they catch them using drugs, and
· To practice safe sex.
Since none of those subjects shows up in the SAT tests, it’s not surprising
that SAT scores declined so much.
Money Not the Problem
No matter how much the federal government appropriates for education, no
matter how many bond issues your school district approves, you hear over and
over that there isn’t enough money for schools.
But, as this graph shows, education has declined while the money spent on it
has increased dramatically.
Obviously, lack of money isn’t the problem.
Why Hasn’t Education Improved?
Many explanations are offered for the decline in education. But by focusing
on the decline, we may have the issue upside-down. The correct question should
be: Why hasn’t education improved?
Look at the tremendous progress made in computers, cell phones, and many other tools of communication.
Such things are ten to twenty times more efficient today than they were 40 years ago. Computers, for example, are literally thousands of times more powerful per dollar-cost than they were in the 1960s.
With the advancements made in communication technology, children should
be learning much more than their parents and grandparents did. Literacy levels
should be much higher than in previous generations, and so should SAT scores.
But just the opposite has occurred. Today’s children know far less than their
Now education is dominated by government. And politicians and bureaucrats don’t need to show a record of success; in fact, the worse the schools become, the more money they can ask for. So long as government runs education, no significant improvement is possible. Even without the federal government’s intrusions, local schools are fighting a losing battle simply because they’re government institutions.
But why must schools be run by the government?
Is it because education is so important? If so, all the more reason to keep it
away from government. The U.S. Postal Service wastes only our time and
money. But we suffer a much greater loss when so many children graduate from
high school with little more than an elementary school education.
If Only Government Would Feed Us
If important things must be handled by government, why doesn’t
government provide free food for everyone — as it provides “free” schooling for
One could live without knowing how to read — as many public school
graduates manage to do — but no one can live without food. So why doesn’t
government operate the supermarkets?
Imagine what it would be like. The food stores would become what the
schools have become.
Political battles would decide which foods are available. If you didn’t like
the choices, you’d have to attend “food board” meetings and lobby state
legislators to change the menu.
Food would become more and more expensive, even as the quality
deteriorated. Wilted vegetables, stale bread, and inferior meat would be the
norm. So would vandalism and gangs.
A Better Dream
Now let’s reverse the picture. Imagine instead that schools were operated
like today’s supermarkets.
Most school systems would offer a variety of approaches to any one subject
— just as a supermarket offers a variety of brands for any one food item. And if
you didn’t like what one school offered, or if you didn’t like the way you or your
child were treated, you could take your business to another school.
If you wanted prayer in the school, you wouldn’t have to pray to Congress to
get it. You’d just take your child to a school that permitted it. If you didn’t want
prayer, you’d find a school that didn’t have it.
You’d be able to choose between science or social engineering, calculus or
condom use. If you wanted, you might even find a school that would teach your
children how to nag you about recycling, or that had other special programs to
undermine parental authority and encourage moral smugness.
Some schools would offer inexpensive, no-frills education. Others would
offer additional (gourmet) classes in music, art, accelerated mathematics,
physical education, and other subjects that government schools like to cut when
taxpayers turn down new bond issues.
If there were violence or drug-trafficking at your child’s school, you
wouldn’t have to complain endlessly and in vain. You’d simply move him to a
school where such things don’t happen. And with competition, any school that
tolerated such problems probably would go out of business.
How would poor children get an education? Most likely the same way many
of them get private educations now — through scholarships, church schools,
foundation grants, and outright charity. Today many inner-city children get good
elementary-school educations at low-cost parochial schools and through
scholarships at non-religious schools. And if government no longer levied heavy
property taxes for schools, the poor would be less poor and the donors would
have more to donate.
The success of private schools — even private schools on skimpy budgets
— has inspired the idea of “school choice” or “vouchers.” This plan has the
government giving the parents of each child a voucher to be spent at a school of
the parents’ choosing — government or private.
I understand the attraction of this approach. And it might seem to be an
improvement over today’s poor schooling.
But government doesn’t work. And giving government control over
education — in any form — is dangerous.
A Voucher program requires a government bureaucracy to administer it and
government “experts” to decide which schools are “qualified” to accept the
vouchers. In no time at all, private schools could become hooked on government money and required to adhere to all sorts of rules designed to make them clones of government schools — in order to keep getting the government money they’ve become dependent on. That’s exactly why most private colleges are very little different from state colleges today.
It is especially dangerous to have the federal government administer such a
program or set the rules for it. But then, if you like what the Feds have turned
government schools into, you’ll probably love what they’ll do to private schools
once they start administering more vouchers.
It is far better to lower the tax burden so that parents are financially able to buy the education they want with their own money — with no rules imposed by government.
Then each family could send its children to a government school, a church
school, or a non-religious private school — or even teach them at home. When
there’s no subsidy from the government, there are no government strings attached. Parents could do what they think best.
Are Parents Competent?
Would all parents make the best choices for their children?
Of course not. We don’t live in a perfect world. But we should live in a free
country — one in which each of us is free to make his own choices, good or bad.
And those parents who are capable of making good choices shouldn’t have their children held hostage in government schools because other parents are less competent.
WHAT MUST BE DONE
Lowering the tax burden to leave parents with enough money to pay for a
good education for their children.
Two important changes that must be made to improve education:
1. The federal government must get completely out of education! It
has made a bad situation much worse. And it has no Constitutional authority to meddle in education in any way — even if it were capable of helping.
2. Federal taxes must be lowered dramatically so that parents have
the ability to finance their children’s education directly.
Once we make these reforms, it will be up to the people in each state to decide what educational system is best.
1. Some states will revert to the kind of education provided before
the federal government took over — with government schools
that reflect local values and circumstances, and that might be
more receptive to parents’ needs.
2. And maybe some states will withdraw from education entirely
— reducing taxes accordingly so that parents have the funds to
buy whatever education they want for their children, and making
education completely insulated from government interference.
In the states in the second group, schools would become truly “public” —
responsive to the choices of their customers, the parents. They would necessarily be economical, and yet effective, places of learning. And you would never have to endure a school that was bent on indoctrinating your child.
Schools would compete to acquire the best teachers from today’s government and private schools. Good teachers could finally teach — instead of having to quell violence, “Teaching to the Test,” and obey politically correct rules.
Education is one of the most important things we give to our children —
much too important to allow government to tamper with it. Letting government educate our children was the worst mistake ever made in America.
Race to the Top
• Race to the Top: R2T is the education initiative funded by the Obama Recovery Act in 2009. States submit competitive bids for educational reform, and the highest-scored plans are awarded funding in the range of $100 million to $500 million. Emphasis in scoring is on teacher support, statewide reform, and student testing.
• Common Core: The Common Core State Standards Initiative, begun in 2009, has been adopted fully by 32 states and partially adopted by 13 others. The Obama administration provided competitive ‘Race to the Top’ grants as an incentive for states to adopt the Common Core. The Common Core defines standards for math and English, with standards to come in the future for science and social studies. Because the standards are copyrighted, critics consider them to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model, and a step towards nationalizing America’s schools.
NCLB – No Child Left Behind • NCLB is the 2001 bipartisan law intended to improve K-12 schools, under the theory of standards-based education reform.
• States are required to establish standardized testing, so that all high school graduates meet the test criteria.
• States are also required to give options (school choice) to students who attend schools that fail to meet NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
• The controversy over NCLB currently focuses on funding: Opponents of NCLB argue that states are provided inadequate federal funding for implementation of NCLB, and that therefore NCLB represents an “unfunded mandate” on states.
• Proponents of NCLB argue that the law provides accountability for schools; fights against incompetent teachers; and provides alternatives to failing schools.
• Progress is measured in the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly knows as the “Nation’s Report Card.”
• STEM: “STEM” refers to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — the components of K-12 education which are considered the most lacking in the United States. Governors and candidates of both parties insist that they will improve STEM education; it is an official designation when foreigners apply for immigrant visas (those with STEM degrees can get special visas).
• Common Core: The Common Core State Standards Initiative (begun in 2004 and formalized in 2009) defines what students should know, in terms of language and mathematics, at each grade level K-12. As of 2014, it has been adopted in 44 states (not TX, VA, AK, NE, IN, and MN). Because Common Core is a national standard, it has become a lightning-rod for states’ rights activists (usually Republicans who oppose Obama), who claim the purpose is to override state educational norms and standards.
• Intelligent design: refers to species development run by intelligent designer (implying God, without the explicitly religious terminology). In contrast, evolution teaches a random process for natural species development. Critics have called intelligent design a thinly disguised version of creationism, which takes a literal approach to the creation account in Genesis, that the earth was created in six days and is less than 10,000 years old.
• Social Promotion: Candidates debate whether students should advance a grade merely to keep up with their peer group. 90% of K-12 students are promoted (10% per year are retained).
• Teacher Pay: K-12 Teachers’ salaries average $34,200; college instructors average $63,000; compared to $50,700 for similarly educated non-teachers. Public school teachers earn 25% to 100% more than private school teachers. Generally, any reference to ‘increasing teacher pay’ implies opposition to vouchers while negative references to teacher’s unions implies support of vouchers.
• Teacher Testing: Current law is that states certify teachers and decide what their requirements are; there are currently no national standards nor testing. Liberals favor raising teacher pay and oppose teacher testing on the grounds of treating teachers more ‘professionally’.
• Student Testing: Many conservatives advocate for national testing standard or other forms of ‘standards-based education’. Generally, any reference to ‘standards,’ or especially to dealing with ‘failing schools’, implies support of school vouchers.
• Smaller Class Size: Many liberals advocate for smaller class sizes, and/or building more schools to achieve them. Generally, any reference to ‘smaller classrooms,’ or especially to ‘building public schools’, implies opposition to funding private schools.
• School Prayer: Current law is that schools allow religious groups to organize on school grounds as if they are any club. Schools are not allowed to conduct prayers at the beginning of school, but neither are they allowed to stop a student from praying.
• Bilingual Education: Schools may conduct classes in Spanish or other languages using federal ‘Title VII’ funds, which totaled $380 million last year (1% of total spending). 13% of K-12 students speak a language other than English at home. Generally, liberals favor bilingual education while conservatives favor ‘official English.’
• DOE: The Department of Education spent $38 billion last year (2% of the federal budget). But federal spending only accounts for 9% of education spending; most of the annual $600 billion comes from state & local sources. Hard-core conservatives favor abolishing the Department of Education, which was a Republican Party platform plank in the 1980s.
• Phonics: Phonics is a method of teaching children to read by sounding out phonemes (groups of letters that represent sounds). Generally, a favorable reference to ‘phonics’ implies a conservative viewpoint on all the other education issues listed here.
‘School Choice’ generally refers to a school district allowing parents to decide which school within the district to send their kids to. The political issue is whether to allow the choice to include private schools, parochial schools, and home schooling at taxpayer expense. Taxpayer funding of parochial schools potentially violates the Constitutional separation of church and state. Taxpayer funding of private schools is controversial because it subsidizes parents who are currently paying for private schools themselves, and are usually more wealthy than the average public school family.
• ‘Charter schools’ are publicly-funded and publicly-controlled schools which are privately run. They are usually required to adhere to fewer district rules than regular public schools.
• By 2011, there were 5,600 public charter schools enrolling more than two million students nationwide. More than 400,000 students remain on wait lists to attend charter schools. Over 500 new public charter schools opened their doors in the 2011-12 school year, an estimated increase of 200,000 students.
‘Vouchers’ are a means of implementing school choice — parents are given a ‘voucher’ by the school district, which entitles them to, say, $4,000 applicable to either public school or private school tuition. The value of the voucher is generally lower than the cost of one year of public education (which averages $5,200), so private schools (where tuition averages $8,500) may require cash payment in addition to the voucher.
Generally, any reference to ‘standards,’ or especially to dealing with ‘failing schools’, implies support of school vouchers. Generally, any reference to ‘smaller classrooms,’ or especially to ‘building public schools’, implies opposition to funding private schools.
K-12 Education Statistics
• Total spending is $260 billion, (7% federal; the rest split state & local) rising by 5% per year.
• Student population is 50 million, rising slowly (1 million per year) since 1984.
• Public school spending is $5,200 per student, staying about even with inflation.
• Parochial school costs $4,200 per student, not discounting church-provided buildings & other subsidies.
• Private school costs $8,500 per student, not discounting scholarships or other financial aid.
• 90% attend public schools; about 6 million attend private & parochial schools.
• 78% of schools have Internet access; 97% plan to by the year 2000.
• 27% of classrooms have Internet access; lower in poor and minority schools.
College Education & Cost Statistics
• 61% of high school graduates continue on to some post-secondary education.
• 43% enroll at 4-year colleges; 33% graduate college.
• Race strongly determines the percentage enrolling at college
(49% for Asians; 38% for Blacks; 28% for Hispanics).
• Socioeconomic status even more strongly determines percentage enrolling at college
(19% from the poorest ¼ of families vs. 70% from the richest ¼ of families).
• Tuition plus room and board at public colleges averages $6,700, and at private college $18,500.
• Public college costs 15% of the average family’s income, and the percentage is holding steady (tuition rises are keeping pace with median income rises).
• Private college costs 42% of the average family’s income, and the percentage is also holding steady.