NCLB and Federal Education

My father-in-law is a professor at BYU and, like me, is very interested/involved in efforts to improve public education. As the voucher debate this year demonstrated, there are very different perspectives on how that improvement can be achieved. (Yes, I do believe that people on both sides of that issue were genuinely interested in improving education.) Such is the case with me and my father-in-law. Not long ago we were talking about educational issues and he said, “Many people do not realize that NCLB was a continuing step in a decades long effort to improve education. It was not born out of nowhere.” He referred me to a seminar given by Vance Randall discussing NCLB and that movement. I believe that he intended that statement to ease my distaste of NCLB. In fact, I was neither surprised nor comforted by the statement.

I finally went to see the video of the seminar, as he suggested, and found my position unchanged. It made me finally do some research asking what we have gained with the intrusion of the federal government in our education system. The answers are – the federal government has gained authoritative control over much of our education for the minimal investment of taking our money in taxes, attaching strings, and giving it back to us enough to fund between 3.9 and 15.8% (average of 7.3%) of our education spending. I don’t know where else an investor can get a controlling interest for under 10% investment. The country has gained, according to Neal McCluskey:

. . . national academic performance has not improved. Math and reading scores have stagnated, graduation rates have flat lined, and researchers have shown numerous billion-dollar federal programs to be failures. (See his full report which is partially based on the work of Vance Randall.)

I learned from the seminar by Dr. Randall that Congress turned a 26 page proposal by President Bush into the 1000+ page bill that passed as NCLB. Proponents of this increased federal incursion argue that states have the ability to opt out, but as McCluskey succinctly coutners:

[S]tates can refuse their share of billions of federal education dollars and thereby avoid having to adhere to federal regulations, but turning down the money is difficult, especially since the federal government took the money out of state taxpayers’ pockets in the first place.

The education lobby would seem to have this debate won handily since nobody wants to vote against helping kids learn. The only recourse for those who would like to return the control of education to its rightful place (parents and lower levels of government) is to make the facts available. It is easy to get caught in the trap of trying to argue that the federal involvement is the problem in our education (a case that is not easy to make in a way that the average voter would care to digest). Whether federal involvement is a problem or not is irrelevant, instead we need to take the ample data that we have which proves that federal involvement is conclusively not the solution.