Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tomorrow's forecast: more failing schools

Howard Rich on the state of American education:
Currently, more than 1.2 million students drop out of school each year. Seventy percent of eighth-graders cannot read at grade level. America’s standardized test scores are falling further behind the rest of the industrialized world — including the scores of our “best and brightest.” These dismal results perpetuate poverty, crime, unemployment and the many social costs that accompany them — while fueling an “innovation gap” that will only further weaken our already reeling economy.

At all levels of government, bureaucrats have tried to solve these problems by spending more money. In fact, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics per pupil federal education spending has risen almost 190 percent since 1970 (after adjusting for inflation). Keep in mind that this money is being spent despite the fact that our Constitution gives the federal government no authority whatsoever to meddle in education. Meanwhile, state and local education spending has also exploded — now consuming 27 cents of every dollar that these governments collect each year.
It's great to see education finally starting to get more attention. Too bad it's taken a half century to get it. But we're not likely to see appreciable long term progress until we break out of the mind set that government has the answers. For decades we've been banging our collective heads against the same brick wall, pretending that if we just bang it a little harder we'll somehow break through. In the meantime we've wasted billions of dollars and robbed millions of kids of their futures -- all because we remain wedded to an idea -- that schools must be government run -- that has produced nothing but failure.

Kudos to Rich for pointing out that, not only has government education been an abject failure, but that federal funding of and meddling in education is clearly illegal. No where in the Constitution is Congress granted the power or authority to spend a penny on education or dictate how it should be run. The Constitution does clearly state, however, that any authority not specifically granted to Washington is off limits.

This quaint notion of actually following the Constitution used to get some play back in the 1970's, when Jimmy Carter created the federal Department of Education. Republicans vehemently opposed it. Ronald Reagan ran on it. It was even part of the official Republican platform.

These days, anyone who even suggests that we take a look at eliminating the DOE (e.g. Sharon Angle) are immediately deemed extremists. Even normally reasonable, thoughtful people like Roll Call's Mort Kondrake are quick to sling mud at the mere mention of returning educational matters to the states where the Constitution says they lawfully belong. Recently, on Fox's Special Report, Kondrake railed against "extremists" like Angle, citing elimination of the DOE as his "litmus" test for identifying political nutjobs. Sadly, not even the conservative wing of the Republican party any longer embraces true federal restraint.

So, we're stuck with it for the foreseeable future: failing schools, higher taxes, and all the social problems that come with them. You'd think that, if for no other than practical reasons, Americans would be demanding that we try something else.

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