The Education Front
In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college ―Joseph Sobran
Volumes could be written on the topic of failed federal government intervention on our education system, but the most current statistics propagated under Obama’s watch must remain the focus of all concerned citizens as we head for the ballot box on November 6. The fact that any federal handprint can be found on our educational system goes against the grain of basic conservative principles, whether it is rooted in either Republican or Democrat legislation. For that reason, total blame cannot be placed solely on Democrats for some of the negative developments over the past decade, because at the root of some of the current deficiencies is No Child Left Behind, (NCLB) foisted upon us during the Bush Administration. Nevertheless, this does not let Obama off-the-hook. Obama’s “Race to the Top” (RttT) policy was touted as a way to give more power back to states and schools and improve student learning. Yet, under his administration the federal government has further tightened the vise of central control over education and increased spending exponentially—including $100BN from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Students are not taught how to think, but what to think.
Many primary level educators lament that the policies from both NCLB and Race to the Top force them to “teach to the test,” and this comes at great cost to our children in lost time that could be spent toward a holistic approach that improves critical thinking skills and broadens their base of knowledge. Teachers spend an inordinate amount of the school year to prep students (“drill and kill”) to take a single test during the term. In an article in March 2012, Sarahlynne Davis, MEd, described curriculum requirements for a school she was teaching at that was under warning from the state due to NCLB rules. Clearly, the directive was to make sure students passed the test rather than truly gaining skills and knowledge.
- “Focus on the tested vocabulary”
- “Teach them how to respond to the question”
- “Teach them what to do if they don’t know the answer“
Weighted priorities on “how to pass the test” are emphasized and teachers must toe the line or risk unemployment, and schools risk funding or complete closure. This is akin to many SAT coaching services; where tricks and strategies are taught, but there is no real meat on the bone for the student. While nearly no one can disagree that we need accountability in teaching and administrative staffs, no lasting up trend has resulted from enforcing these testing policies. Additionally, researchers from sixteen universities in the Chicago area in criticism of Race to the Top wrote, “student test scores have not been found to be a strong predictor of the quality of teaching as measured by other instruments or approaches.” They went on to say, “Assessments designed to evaluate student learning are not necessarily valid for measuring teacher effectiveness or student learning growth.” The charts below are avouchment, revealing a flat result trend since 1992—with or without NCLB and RttT. Red markers on the charts delineate when both programs were enacted.
How are older students faring? SAT scores in 2012 were the worst reported in forty years. Reading scores were 486 out of a possible 800, and writing scores dropped nine points to 488. Contrast these results with those of home-schooled children who score 30 to 37 percentile points higher in all subjects compared to public school students according to independent evaluations conducted by HSLDA. Additionally, ethnicity, which is often used as a ruse by Democrats to explain poor test scores in public schools, had no negative impact on test scores for home-schooled children. Yet, in many states, and most recently Florida, the trend is to lower achievement expectations by implementing race-based student achievement goals. This is a morally hazardous development, but is on par with a declaration made by Obama’s Department of Education that puts districts on notice: if there are too many white students in Advanced Placement classes they could be subject to civil rights enforcement. In August 2012, a Berkley High School with outstanding scores in AP national exams actually considered dropping those courses because not enough minority students were attending the labs. This should be considered outrageous by any estimation, but this is the central theme of central planning—lower standards, punish success and reward failure.
Global Competitiveness Impact
Not only do these failed programs have long-lasting consequences on our students, but continue to affect the ranking of the United States in global competitiveness, and ultimately our GDP. In the most recent assessment presented by the World Economic Forum, it was noted that in ranking, using their twelve pillars of competitiveness, the U.S. has fallen considerably over the past year on Obama’s watch.
The United States spends more per capita than any other country in the world on education, with a budget of nearly $800 billion in 2012 alone. What does Obama propose? More spending, which is clearly not the solution. Federal spending per pupil has doubled since the 1970s, adjusted for inflation. Expenditures per pupil for 2012 are projected to be $11,467. Student/teacher ratio is 15:1, the lowest ratio in twelve years. What do we have to show for this spending? Dismal results and an increase to the national debt. Extensive Research by economists Eric A. Hanushek and Ludgar Woessman concluded “Simply providing more resources gives, according to the available evidence, little assurance that student performance will improve significantly.” However, effective reforms with moderately strong knowledge improvement will improve GDP considerably. Neither NCLB nor RttT have proven to be effective, yet clamoring for more spending and resources continues unabated.
School Vouchers – The Anti-dirigiste Solution
From the U.S. Counsel of Catholic Bishops, 2012 Voting Guide:
“Parents—the first and most important educators—have a fundamental right to choose the education best suited to the needs of their children, including public, private, and religious schools.”
Race to the Top has been supportive of charter schools, but the Obama Administration shows no signs of supporting an education voucher system for U.S. students. Research shows charter schools overall do not lead to achievement, but the Left continues socialistic a priori with the concept in order to continue their grip of central planning, while at the same time creating a chimera of choice. This is clearly shortchanging those students who do not have the financial means to attend a school of their choice, much less compete with private or home-schooled children. The case for vouchers was made recently by the World Innovation Summit for Education, citing measurable success in Chile, Columbia and Netherlands. Under a voucher system competition is increased to innovate and attract students, while at the same time raising efficiency and lowering costs. Opponents often cite the potential for negative outcomes due to segregation, but ignore evidence-based real world results. These objections come at a cost in both real dollars and global competitiveness to our entire society as opponents continue to cling to failed initiatives. The Left is in favor of housing vouchers and vouchers for food via SNAP, but when it comes to school vouchers they’re suddenly in opposition to the concept. Polling conducted by The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice resulted in a 61% favorable rating by moms for K-12 vouchers and a mere 28% in opposition. Clearly, the central planners in Washington, D.C are ignoring the majority of those who would like to have this choice for their children.
Abolish the Department of Education and Return to Opportunity
Expenditures per pupil have increased nearly 80% since the inception of the Department of Education
Our nation needs to return to Goldwater’s call for an “opportunity society,” promoting equal opportunity—not the Left’s notion of equal outcomes. This approach was supported by President Reagan who also wanted to dismantle the unconstitutional Department of Education created by Jimmy Carter, and return control of education back to state, local and parental level. Ending the DOE would allow local education money to stay local and directed, rather than sent off to a bloated government bureau. Additionally, school vouchers would cut additional costs and return us to an “opportunity society” where students of all ages can flourish and achieve their dreams, unhindered by federal curriculum and testing standards that have proven to be a failure time and again. Consequently, these reforms would end punishing disadvantaged children attending schools that rely most heavily on federal government spending and are forced to succumb to centralized curriculum coercion.
Multiple studies cite parental involvement as a profound positive effect on the success of a student. It’s time to give all parents a free market based choice for their children and allow them to be involved right at the onset of the educational process via a voucher system. The responsibility belongs to us on November 6 to end the “race to the bottom” our nation’s education system is headed for under Obama’s central planning failures.
For further in-depth reading:
(Note- I am including a brief glance at the education system in Finland, and while I do not endorse their socialistic policies, there are several applicable reforms that could greatly benefit American students. Finland consistently ranks in the top international education rankings after making sweeping reforms in the 1970s, including a move away from centralized control and back to local control.)
- The Role of School Improvement in Economic Development – Eric A. Hanushek, Hoover Institution and Ludger Woessmann, University of Munich