by Carol A. Vance & Loyd S. Pettegrew, Mises Institute
Since 1980, during the Carter Administration, America’s K-12 education system has come under increasing control by the dictates of the federal Department of Education (DOE) with failing results, taxing states and filtering the money through Washington to return a portion of it back to the states.
In 2002, the Bush Administration approved the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act creating punishing amounts of federal paperwork and bureaucracy for local schools, requiring a $1B grant in special funding to help state and local education systems comply. In 2015 Congress enacted new legislation, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), to allegedly overcome the NCLB federal intervention. The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke says, “ESSA does not accomplish these critical policy priorities” to reduce the interference and excessive hours of standardized testing time. The 2016 DOE budget is $70.7B excluding a Presidential request for an additional $75B mandatory funding over ten years for Pre-K education.
What is America getting for federally-funded interference in education? The US spends over 23.2% of per capita income on its students each year, 9% more than Singapore while over 26 other countries that spend less outscore US students. Charles Murray says that even after substantial resources were dedicated to assist minorities over a 10 year period, SAT scores have indeed dropped for Amerindians ( -28%), Latinos (-26%), Blacks (-14%) and Whites (-6%) while substantially increasing for Asians (+54).
Of 64 countries in the International Student Assessment, the U.S. ranks 35th in math and 27th in science. Singapore spends almost half of what the U.S. spends in primary education and about 70% on secondary education while internationally scoring first in math and second in science. Ironically, while more than 1.7M students are now homeschooled, the National Center for Educational Statistics does not produce statistics on the likely difference in achievement between homeschooled students and public education students.
Students in institutional schools are measured repeatedly, however. A typical student takes 112 mandated standardized tests between pre-K classes and 12th grade; by contrast, most countries that outperform the U.S. on international exams test students three times during their entire school careers.
In spite so much testing and measuring, the standards are being manipulated to enhance the illusion of improving student performance. The modern thinking appears to be that “everyone must be a winner.” A variation of this is “average is over,” a perverse twist on economist Tyler Cowen’s thesis. In K-12, only children with extremely low I.Q.’s, juvenile delinquents or truants receive average grades, and rarely do students receive D’s or F‘s.1 In most states, students with English as a second language are passed along with C grades regardless of performance. Piereson & Riley note that the Department of Education released data showing that from 1990-2000 high school graduate GPAs rose a third of a point and one public school district in northern California altered student grading so that students scoring above 80% received A’s and students below 20% were given F’s.2
K-12 Education’s Left Liberal Orthodoxy
In the past 30 years, the Department of Education has exerted an increasing influence on K-12 education. K-12 teachers, overwhelmingly if not exclusively, are the products of schools of education whose influence is largely left-leaning and their teachings politicized. David Labaree, Professor in Stanford’s Graduate School of Education has states that “education schools are solidly in the progressive camp ideologically.”3 Stotsky concludes that K-12 English classes have increasingly become ersatz social studies classes with biased content taught by moralizing pedagogues who are untrained in either history or social science. Teachers Unions maintain a strangle hold on local school districts and principals’ ability to terminate ineffective teachers.
In 2000 Clinton created the National Education Standards and Improvement Council for teaching American history. None of the 31 standards mentions the U.S. Constitution; the National Standards Advance Placement history exam also politicized American history in a highly progressive manner. Revisionist history books represent the horrors of the American revolutionists and their colonial oppression. No period of American history is being celebrated; instead the historians have apologetically presented our forefathers as war mongers and racists. We foresee the day when the Constitution will be burned in effigy because so many authors were slave owners. Science exists in a sustainability vacuum where climate change is presented as gospel in place of the scientific truths of the elective courses in Physics. States have banned classic literature for its “incendiary” themes including Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Catcher in the Rye; while age appropriateness is certainly a valid concern, an outright ban is unconstitutional. As a by-product of this censorship, Yale freshmen recently petitioned faculty to remove the “nondiverse” English literature of Shakespeare, Dickens and Bronte from the required curriculum.
Notably some of the brightest spots in K-12 education exist in isolated places including New York and California where parents fought the government and union to take charge through organizations like Excellent Educational Solutions and the Harlem Success Academy.
And Still More to Come
President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address, mandated government controlled pre-school educationfor millions of young children and represents a new stealth opportunity for left liberal indoctrination. The U.K. adopted Pre-K in 2007 for children age 3-4, with underwhelming results which don’t include educational attainment of the children. While a child’s academic gains were at best marginal in the U.K. (small improvements by age 5 and no improvements by age 11),4 was free child care for parents. Gerard Robinson argues that with the Pre-K schooling now an educational reality, the government not parents has clearly become the controlling force in early childhood education. We can only imagine that in the U.S., this is another opportunity to create a new entitlement and progressively indoctrinate even younger children without any parental controls.
Loyd S. Pettegrew is professor of communication at the University of South Florida and also runs his consulting firm, Decision Strategies Group, Inc., which performs research and training for corporations. Contact: email.