Department of Education? Why?

In 1979, during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the Federal Department of Education was created as a Cabinet Level department.  In the 38 years since then, we have spent $1.5 trillion on this department.  It was created in response to a study of Education in America that famously said “If a foreign nation imposed this system of education on us, it would be considered an act of war.”  It was supposed to “fix” the problem and dramatically improve education in America. [Ed:  The source where I got that information was apparently chronologically challenged as that quote was from the 1983 “A Nation At Risk” study.  It was instead created apparently to fulfill a promise Carter made to the National Education Association gaining their support during his campaign]

Can anyone honestly say that our schools are any better now than they were then?

cato_andrew_coulson_public_school_trends_2013

As the above chart shows, spending has been growing by leaps and bounds but the performance of the schools, as measured by the reading, math, and science scores of the students has not measurably improved.

One would presume that the purpose of the Department of Education would be to improve the education of American students so they would graduate possessing greater knowledge of core subjects like reading, math, science, and history.  One would presume.

Whatever the Department of Education is doing, it is not working.  The improvement has simply not been happening.

They have had thirty-eight years and one and a half trillion dollars to improve things.  They have had Democrat and Republican appointees both in charge.  They have had more liberal and less liberal Congresses passing budgets (or at least continuing resolutions).  They have had every possible chance to show that they can actually make our schools better.

They have failed.  It’s time to shut down the failed experiment.

Of course, advocating that evokes the cries of those who declare that education will collapse and we’ll suddenly have a nation of functional illiterates.  In many ways, we already have that.  But consider what we accomplished with education system more beholden to the local than the Federal level, before there was a Department of Education, before there was even a Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  We educated a population that took us from horse and buggies to the sound barrier and beyond.  We educated a population that won two world wars, both of which involved significant technological advances.  We went from Congreve Rockets to Earth Orbiting Satellites, to Man in Space, to the Moon.  We educated a population that gave us the first sort-of reuseable spaceship (Oh, don’t get me started… But the problems were not educational.  The problems were political).  We did all that without federal meddling with people’s schooling.

What has been done, can be done.

Who has more interest in the education of a community’s children, than the community itself.  Will some fail in their charge?  No doubt.  But they will fail for themselves.  When the Federal government fails, it fails for everybody.

So, time and past time to get the Federal Government out of what should be a State, or better yet local, issue.  The money is wasted and accomplishes nothing good.

Empty promises and wishful thinking are not a substitute actual results.

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22 thoughts on “Department of Education? Why?”

  1. One might be forgiven for thinking that the lesson of that chart is that the actual goal was not to improve education, but to increase the number of highly-paid yet unproductive jobs.

    I used to be married to a middle-school teacher in the Tacoma, WA, school district, and the amount of administrative bloat, paperwork and waste was staggering, while actual teachers were shorted on school supplies for their illegally oversized classes.

    1. Let me guess, your middle-school teachin’ wife was a fully paid-up dues payin’ member of the Tacoma schools teachers union and said union was gung-ho for James Earl Carter to form a new federal bureaucracy and call it the US Dept. of Education.

      1. Well, I’m not *that* old — this was in the ’90s. She was a dues-payin’ member because she had to be, but the union itself was completely useless to her in her clash of personality with the principal that ended up driving her out of teaching.

  2. When I compare my elementary school experience with what I see in my wife’s school (she teaches 4th grade), what I see are a bunch of ‘special’ stuff added. Granted I went to a small school (1 class for each grade), with ~24 kids/class 1st through 4th grade, then smaller classes in 5th and 6th as people moved away faster then others moved in. But we had 1 teacher per classroom. A full time librarian, a phy ed teacher that split time between our school and two others, and a music teacher that did the same. There was one special ed teacher for the entire school who had about a dozen kids. There was one principal and one secretary. My wife’s school has anywhere from 3-5 classes per grade, one teacher per class. With three special ed teachers, two full time music teachers, two full time phy ed teachers, and a full time librarian. There’s also one principal, an assistant principal (now termed a Dean of Students), four secretaries, a dozen paraprofessionals (sort of like assistants to the teacher) for the regular kids, another half dozen para’s for the special needs kids, a full time art teacher, a full time reading teacher, and a full time technology coordinator. Some of the schools also have English Language Learner/English as a Second Language teachers. Then there a whole bunch of people at the district level who “coordinate” the various subject matter and help set up guides for the teachers to follow so they stay on track through the year. Almost all of the added positions are dealing with either compliance with ballooning state/federal regulations and/or special needs kids. Almost nothing goes to reducing the burden on the actual teacher in the classroom.

  3. As I’ve mansplained to DoEd supporters… “OK, pop quiz: U.S. history. What happened on 20 July 1969?” Sometimes they’ll know but often not (if young). Now consider the effort involved in the man-to-the-moon program. Between NASA, the contractors, the sub-contractors and the sub-subs, there must have been tens of thousands of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians of all stripes at work. Every single one of them (except a few foreigners, like von Braun himself), educated in an America that did not have a Department of Education.

    Every. Single. One.

    Could we do it again? No. Get rid of the DoEd, it’s a waste of money (and anyway, it was never more than a bone Carter threw to the teachers’ unions for their support).

    1. NASA and the entire space program is the Department of Education, but for space. It’s just another wasteful government boondoggle politicians use to line their own pockets and their cronies because SPACE!!

      As with almost everything else, politicians should not concern themselves with space, outside government satellite systems being used for the legitimate purposes of government enumerated in our constitution.

      1. NASA was created for one purpose and one purpose only: to catch up to and beat the Russians. It accomplished that. Then Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy took over. There are a lot of decent scientists and engineers working for NASA, but the ones in charge are the bureaucrats whose primary purpose is all about protecting their “turf” and increasing their own power and privilege.

        In the long run, NACA was a much better model and far more easily defended on Constitutional grounds–staying technologically at the forefront of the then new field of aviation was important from a military standpoint and so could be defended on “raise armies and maintain a navy” grounds.

        On the flip side I do think that a certain level of “blue sky” research–the stuff with payoffs too far down the line to interest private business–can be a legitimate function of government, to take the long view. But it should be done right by amending the Constitution to add it to Congress’ enumerated powers and _limit_ it as well so it doesn’t become a complete pie-in-the-sky boondoggle.

  4. Once upon a time, the United States education systems were the envy of the world. At that same time, the individual STATES, themselves, (and, much less, the Federal Government ) stayed out of education, and left it to local communities to figure out how to best educate the young-uns.

    We no longer have schools; we have indoctrination camps. What they are “teaching” is infuriating to me.

    I, too, am all for abolishing the Federal Department of Education. I’d like to see education put firmly back in the hands of parents, where it belongs. Let the parents choose the method of education that suits them, whether it be home schooling, private school, or a local community thing. No need for government involvement.

    The education needs of Flomaton, AL, Gallipolis, OH, and San Francisco, CA are going to be different from each other. It is absurd to think that “standardized” education is feasible.

  5. How can the creation of the Department of Ed in 1979 be attributed to a report that came out in 1983? In the intro paragraph, the quote is from Nation at Risk.

    Also many states, such as Georgia where I live, have quietly passed laws that strip the elected school boards of any real power. This can lead to an illusion of local control while the real levers of power are quite centralized and standardized.

      1. I wrote a post about it and thus brought it into the public domain. That caused school board members from all over the state to quietly email me thanks for telling something they were told they could not tell parents and voters unless they knew to ask. I also wrote about the State School Superintendents Association and the State School Board Association entering into an agreement via a white paper I secured on the type of education all communities and schools MUST shift to.

        I wrote the book Credentialed to Destroy: How and Why Education Became a Weapon that lays out what is and always has been going on.

        The calls for a federal Department starting in the 30s would fit with the 8 Years Project, which ties actually to the Common Core and competency-based ed now as my book explained.

  6. It’s far past the time to eliminate the department of education, aka department of indoctrination.

    Let the States handle eduction.

    1. Education shouldn’t be a politically controlled monopoly at all, at any level. We are supposed to be free people. Leave us be to choose our path, including our educational path.

      1. If education is to be publicly funded at whatever level (arguments can be made both ways and it’s not my purpose to decide that issue here) then it would be better to tie the funding to the student and not the school itself. This is much what we do with college and university education with the result that people come from all over the world to attend our universities, in many cases forgoing “free” college back home to pay money to attend college here.

        There are, of course, problems with that public funding including the ever rising cost of schooling, but if we must have it, do it in such a way that schools have an incentive to do better because otherwise people will leave, taking their funding with them, for a school that does better. (I.e. introduce competition.)

        The current system, where schools don’t have to worry about competition and where failure is rewarded with more money is just about the worst of the various options.

  7. Does the cost that is mentioned in the article take into consideration the changing value of the US dollar between 1970 and 2010? Does it also take into account that the state/national tests that are used to collect test score data change every few years to become more “rigorous”? This said, a student who scored at advanced levels on a test in the past might not necessarily do so today due to test changes, which means that there is no objective comparison in this area.

      1. Also, if the “leveling” of test scores were caused by periodic renormlizing of the results, what you would see would be a progressive change for a while followed by a “step” at the points where the renormalizing is done. This is not seen. We see this same pattern in calibration of the microscopes in the lab where I work. Calibration readings will “drift” over time, then they’ll hit the “control limit” and we’ll adjust the calibration back to nominal. That’s not what we’re seeing here.

        1. Thank you for the link to the source. What I was getting at in terms of the testing question is that objectively comparing test outcomes over time is impossible for many tests due to test changes in terms of the rigor of questions asked. For instance, in the past 20 years, many state/national assessments have made questions more difficult by including more multi-step problems and going away from traditional multiple choice to include constructed response. Tests like these include ACT, SAT, and Michigan’s MSTEP (formerly known as MEAP). These are different from tests like NWEA, which rely on more objective basline-growth data to track student performance. Also, it is important to ask who is grading these assessments. For example, in Michigan, MSTEP constructed response scorers were being hired through Craigslist and did not have to have a degree in the subject area that they were scoring. Again, this makes objective test performance comparison impossible.

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