April 8, 1996
SAT Scores Have Dropped Nearly 60 Points in the Past Three
Chart 2: In Science Tests, American 13-Year-Olds Lag
Chart 3: Organizational Chart of the Department of Education
Table 1: Public Expenditures for Primary, Secondary Education
In preparing to shut down the federal government in November 1995, before President Clinton's veto of the second continuing resolution to keep federal agencies operating, the Clinton Administration made the customary distinction between "essential" employees, who would remain on the job, and "non-essential" employees, who would be furloughed. For the U.S. Department of Education, the Clinton Administration determined that 4,394 of the department's 4,937 employees -- or 89 percent -- were "non-essential" and would be furloughed for the duration of the budget impasse.1
Unwittingly, the Clinton Administration confirmed what Congress should recognize: America does not need a federal Department of Education. Congress should take the opportunity afforded by the budget process to return to states, local governments, and parents the authority and responsibility for education.
On March 19, 1996, President Clinton submitted a budget to Congress that requested a 7.2 percent increase in FY 1997 discretionary funds for the Department of Education.2 While the Administration makes certain attempts to realize savings through consolidation and reform of redundant and outdated programs, the proposal reflects an unquestioning commitment to an institution that has failed to prove its value in reaching the President's stated goal of giving "every single American citizen the education that all of us need to compete and win in the new century." The education establishment has failed to demonstrate any positive correlation between federal education spending and education performance. It is time to rethink the role of the federal government in education, not to spend more money in the hope that programs which have not worked in the past somehow will be made to succeed with increased funding.
Created by Congress in 1979 at the request of President Jimmy Carter, the Department of Education is doing precisely what its severest critics envisioned: usurping local and state control of education by slowly and steadily introducing federal programs, rules, and requirements. Although the department accounts for about six percent of total public funding of education, its influence is out of all proportion to its financial role. Indeed, the Department of Education is inserting itself into almost all aspects of the day-to-day workings of the nation's 15,025 school districts. Bureaucratic, heavy-handed and intrusive, it is a metaphor for many of Washington's most wasteful and meddlesome domestic programs. As Chester E. Finn, Jr., former Assistant Secretary of Education during the Reagan Administration, noted in recent congressional testimony:
The federal education apparatus illustrates what has gone awry in Washington over the past several decades. The national government has become meddlesome, intrusive and bullying. It now impedes more than it fosters. Much of what it mandates or encourages is misguided. It keeps people from doing what they know is right for their children, communities and states. It substitutes the rules of distant bureaucrats for the on-site knowledge of parents and teachers. And, particularly in the last several years, it has begun to lift from our communities the sense that they are responsible for the renewal and reform of American education and to suggest, instead, that Washington knows best and is taking charge.3
Why should the U.S. Department of Education be eliminated? Its time has come and gone. It is time to restore common sense.
Thanks to the Reserve Powers Clause in the Tenth Amendment, all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states. Education is such a power; a federal role is both gratuitous and intrusive.
It is time to restore federalism to its founding principles, and there is no area more fruitful than education. Despite the desperate need for reform, there is no master template--certainly not one originating in Washington--to improve the schools. States and localities are "laboratories of democracy"; reform should originate at these levels, not be imposed from on high.
Pedagogy - -the art of teaching and learning -- is quintessentially local in nature. Indeed, it goes on at the classroom and individual level. The closer decision-making is to the student and teacher, the better.
The federal role is costly as well as intrusive, requiring an expensive and burdensome bureaucracy to manage national programs. Washington should do only those things states and localities cannot do for themselves, such as national data collection and targeted research.
The most alarming aspect of growing federal control of education is not administrative interference, however, but its adverse impact on academic performance, equally the product of sins of omission and commission. The increasing power of special-interest groups, the burgeoning size of school districts, the refusal of the public schools to submit to any market discipline, weakening community bonds, a pervasive anti-intellectualism in schools of education, general permissiveness, family dissolution -- all have played a role. At no time in American history has academic performance been more important. Yet, as the federal role has increased, education performance has declined. While cause and effect are elusive, and the department's supporters assert a variety of causes to explain the decline in student performance, these changes nonetheless occurred during, and as a part of, the federal ascendancy in American education.
Chart 1 illustrates how SAT scores have declined in the last 25 years as the federal role in education has increased. Since the creation of the department in 1979, scores have stagnated: In 1980, the national average was a combined 890; in 1994, the average was 910. What appears to be a small amount of progress could be attributed to changes in methodology on the SAT, which include a shortened test and permission to use calculators. In terms of graduation rates, the 8 percent of eighth graders who failed to complete high school in 1978 rose to 12 percent in 1992. In other measures of reading, science, and math ability, there has been some measurable improvement. When compared to the scores of other industrialized nations, however, it becomes clear that measuring success against where we were 20 years ago may not be sufficient if we still consistently lag behind other industrialized parts of the world, as Chart 2 illustrates. The United States spends more money per elementary and secondary school pupil than any other country, with little to show for such an investment (see Table 1). How education money is spent is as important as the amount spent.
Even if the federal role has not been directly responsible for education decline, this is clearly not the time to do more of the same. Taxpayers should realize the obvious: The purpose of a federal role in education is to "federalize" the nation's schools, to make them march to a common drumbeat. And it is succeeding, to the detriment of education. At least since the advent of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, federal involvement in education has been designed to make each state more like the others.
Not surprisingly, the descent to the lowest common denominator has been relentless. The inverse relationship between education performance and an increasingly intrusive federal education bureaucracy is so pronounced that it invites the most profound skepticism about any significant federal role in education. It is time for Congress to close down the Department of Education, reassign appropriate federal functions to their proper place in the national government, and return authority to those who really should be responsible for the nation's schools.
The Origins of the Department
A Limited Federal Role
In 1867, the federal government created a Department of Education to gather and disseminate statistics in order to improve the nation's public schools. The department was modeled after the Department of Agriculture, created in 1862 as a free-standing, sub-Cabinet-level federal agency, and was tasked with promoting the cause of education by publishing statistical reports and comparisons of school effectiveness. A bitter debate surrounded the establishment of the department as a free-standing agency, for although it was tasked only with data gathering and dissemination, many feared that it would grow to challenge state control of public schools. A coalition of Democrats and a wide spectrum of Republicans fought to abolish the department soon after its creation, and a compromise was reached, under which the office was moved to the Department of the Interior in 1868. The office continued to exist, but its influence was tempered by a Congress that allowed only modest increases in funding and personnel. Throughout the following century, amid several name changes and reorganizations, the agency played a carefully limited role in the development of federal education policy, with the Interior, Agriculture, and Labor departments also performing education-related functions.4
But the Office of Education grew, and so did its mission. In 1947, in the Everson case the U.S. Supreme court set the stage for increased federal involvement in education, establishing a precedent for federal involvement in state and local school policies by limiting public support for religious schooling. Two decades later, President Johnson's War on Poverty sought to improve the quality of and access to education with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. ESEA empowered the U.S. Office of Education to aid schools in low-income areas and strengthen state departments of education.5 The office performed analyses of state and local educational trends and gained authority to enforce racial discrimination guidelines. And while the Office of Education did not control curriculum, it supported a number of curriculum reform projects -- "new math" and MACOS (Man, A Course of Study), for example -- that were both intrusive and ineffectual. As the office distributed funds at the local level, it also required evaluations of regulatory compliance. No longer was the Office of Education merely a "statistical secretary" to the nation's schools.6
During the 1970s, education groups lobbied heavily for a Cabinet-level Department of Education. The National Education Association had long supported the creation of a Cabinet-level agency but had little support from Congress. President Jimmy Carter, in an effort to keep a campaign pledge, sought its creation soon after his inauguration. Overcoming opponents, supporters of a Cabinet-level department prevailed in 1979 with the Department of Education Organization Act, which passed easily in the Senate (72 to 21) but narrowly in the House (210 to 206).7
The U.S. Department of Education was created for the least defensible of reasons: politics. The education establishment desperately wanted its own Cabinet-level department, and creating it helped cement their political ties to liberals in Congress. In turn, a more pronounced federal role would raise the visibility of education and lead to more and more federal involvement in policymaking and funding. With such a dynamic in place, state and local education would become increasingly federalized.
While the Department increased the power of education interest groups, however, two decades of test scores show that public education has become progressively weaker and more ineffective. As Chester Finn observes:
It became clear that the authors want to substitute decisions made in Washington for decisions made by individual households and communities. They create new governance mechanisms and regulatory apparatus at both national and state levels. They use federal funding in a deceptive way that is designed to elicit the very forms of behavior that other parts of the legislation term "voluntary." They throw obstacles onto such promising reform pathways as school choice and private management of public schools. They transform what has been a national movement into a federal program.8
The Department of Education thus was not, and is not, a child of carefully reasoned policy or pressing national need. It was the product of politics and is an instrument of interest group political power. That is why it behaves as it does. The calculus is straightforward: President Carter made a political promise and kept it. After decades of existence, a cautious and careful professional association -- the National Education Association (NEA) -- became politicized in the 1970s and 1980s. Determined to create a national education presence, the NEA had one overriding agenda: "one-third, one-third, one-third." By this, the NEA meant that each level of government -- local, state, and federal -- would provide one-third of the total dollars for education.9 It also wanted a Department of Education to increase central control of education through an agency that would be influenced by organized teachers and administrators rather than parents. In exchange for the support of the National Education Association for his candidacy, Jimmy Carter and his liberal allies in Congress delivered a Cabinet department.
Ironically, the department's severest critics included those who regard themselves as among American education's best friends. The concern at the time is best captured in Washington Post editorials opposing the creation of the department nearly 20 years ago:
If the House does agree to enshrine an insulated, supergraded federal educational bureaucracy in the Cabinet, the results are likely to be so costly and unhealthy for American education that many representatives, in retrospect, will be embarrassed to admit that they voted "yea."10
We are not one-time offenders in this business.... [W]e are, in fact, hardened criminals, hopeless recidivists and probably -- why mince words? -- incorrigibles. We have been fighting the creation of a separate Department of Education since 1953 [and] we remain adamantly opposed to the creation of this new department. We think it is an awful idea and nothing that has been said or that has happened in the last 26 years has given us reason to think otherwise -- including and especially the Carter administration's campaign in favor of it.11
The reason for such a reaction was that President Carter's proposal was startling even by Washington standards. There simply was no compelling organizational reason to create a Cabinet-level Department of Education, except to usurp state and local power -- a claim not even the most ardent supporter would make in public. It was a simple political payoff, obvious to everyone. Joining the Post in its opposition to the new department was the Committee Against a Separate Department of Education, created by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Made up of education, research, labor, and civil rights groups from across the country, and including prominent figures such as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), the committee was afraid that the new department would have a baleful effect on America's long and successful tradition of local control of education. According to Moynihan, the department was a result of a "backroom deal, born out of squalid politics."12 Gregory Humphrey, director of legislation for the AFT, likewise declared:
We believe this is a hoax. It will not result in the improvement of education anywhere. [Test scores and literacy measurements] are the things people think of when they want an improvement in education -- not who talks to the President and when, or how many assistant secretaries can dance on the head of a pin.13
Despite this criticism, when President Reagan proposed to abolish the department just two years later, he was barely able to find an author to carry his legislation. The abolition proposal vanished without a trace. Congressional support for a Department of Education was no stronger than when the Department had been created, but just as Congress had little energy or enthusiasm for creating the department, it could not marshal the resolve to dismantle it. The new status quo triumphed.
A Department in Search of a Justification
The failings of the Department of Education (and the Office of Education before it) have been sins of omission as much as sins of commission. It is not just that Department officials foisted such things as "bilingual education" on an unwilling nation; the department also forfeited tremendous opportunities. Had it been a force for a constructive new federalism, it could have partially justified its existence as a "bully pulpit" for reform and academic excellence (as it was under Secretaries William Bennett and Lamar Alexander). But for most of its 18 years as a Cabinet department, it has been simply a handmaiden of special interests. Not surprisingly, the Department of Education is a department for producers (educators), not customers (parents and children). The problem is organic and institutional, and is not simply a function of lackluster political appointments.
The National Interest in Education
To be sure, there is a national interest in education: a compelling national interest in high quality education for all Americans, of all backgrounds and from all regions. But that interest is best served by a vigorous federal system, not by centralization. The states are and should be "laboratories of democracy"; to force them into the same mold does violence both to America's constitutional traditions and to the very nature of education. It misconceives both. If, for example, there were one best system by which to educate everyone, a uniform federal role might have some basis in logic if not in practice. The French (who invented modern bureaucracy) and the Japanese are among those who make such a claim; but among Americans, a uniform federal role, except in a carefully delineated fashion, has always been understood to be bad policy and worse practice. A robust federal system offers unparalleled opportunities to reform and improve education, state by state, community by community. As each state learns more about reform within its own borders, other states are free to learn from its reforms and avoid the pitfalls of the less successful.
The argument for state and local control of education begins with the Constitution and ends with common sense. The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves to the states all powers not specifically delegated to the national government, and education is quintessentially a state and local matter. From the time of the ancient Greeks to the present, education has been understood as a transaction between student and teacher. Everything else -- school districts, school boards, state rules and regulations, the federal role -- should be supportive, designed to assist teacher and student. Yet, as any candid observer must admit, a public school system, like any bureaucracy, tends to become insular and self-serving. The fault is not in teachers, but in the structure within which they must function. Unfortunately, the federal role reinforces this unhappy tendency.
The further control is removed from the classroom, the greater the danger that teachers will be frustrated and students (and their families) shortchanged. Of all social activities (such as health care, criminal justice, housing, transportation, and economic policy), schooling is the least likely to profit from centralized control. Yet that has been precisely the goal of federal involvement.
Moreover, adding a federal dimension has not solved lower-level bureaucratic problems within the system -- it has made them worse. Not surprisingly, just as "command-control" economies have failed around the globe, command-control schools are failing. At issue is a deceptively simple administrative principle: decentralization. In the world of business, this means that those who are closest to the workplace should make as many decisions as possible. In the world of public administration, it means the same. Each unit of government should do what it does best -- and only that. Higher units of government should yield as much power as possible to lower units, and must be able to defend -- in terms of efficiency or justice -- whatever functions they retain.
Perhaps most important, the states have grown dramatically in their ability to deal with problems and seize opportunities. Not only have state legislatures become modernized, and state governors increasingly more sophisticated, but most states now have well-organized citizen watchdog groups and state and regional think tanks that provide oversight and policy guidance.14
The Lack of Need for Federal Intervention
Had the Department of Education been created for compelling policy reasons, had serious problems been successfully addressed, had something "broken" been fixed, or had student performance climbed upward over the past decade and a half, perhaps some federal involvement in education could be defended. But only a weak political defense was advanced at the time, and no intellectually serious defense is being advanced now.
No government agency should be allowed to continue indefinitely without having to justify itself to the people's representatives. Each one should be required to demonstrate that it is doing something worthwhile -- in other words, to convince Members of Congress that it is worth preserving. Members of Congress should ask themselves three basic questions: Would the U.S. Department of Education survive serious scrutiny if forced to justify itself? Has it improved American education significantly? If Congress were starting from scratch, would it create the same bureaucracy that exists today?
The federal role in education emerged in waves, in response to crises perceived or real. In the modern era -- after the GI Bill, a program to support and reward veterans of World War II -- there were five major waves: first, under President Dwight Eisenhower with aid to higher education, a military/economic response to Sputnik; second, under President Lyndon Johnson with the Great Society; third, under President Richard Nixon with limited federal support for research and development; fourth, under President Gerald Ford with P.L. 94-142, a bill to aid handicapped children that created radical federal intrusions into the classroom by making education a federal civil right; and fifth, under President Jimmy Carter with the decision to upgrade the Office of Education within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to a separate Cabinet-level department.
Other programs have been added, but with the notable exception of special education, the broad contours of federal education policy were established under the Great Society. The announced reason for this was equity -- racial and economic justice. A long history of state indifference -- and even outright hostility--to the rights of black Americans finally mobilized a powerful constituency for federal intervention in education. Even though education is clearly a state and local function, both in terms of practice and in terms of policy, and as important as local control is, racial justice formed a higher claim, one that must be honored. But just as tough cases make bad law, moral fervor is no guarantee of balanced and effective legislation. As Finn notes,
There were genuine quantity-and-access problems at the time, and it was legitimate to enlist the national government in their solution. But the world has changed in the three decades since these programs were born and these assumptions fixed in policy. The essential nature of the education problem facing the United States is altogether different today.15
Preempting the States
Put bluntly, the task for the Carter Administration and liberals in Congress was to circumvent the Tenth Amendment, which specifically reserves to the states all powers not specifically delegated to the national government. Education is such a power.
The effect of this limitation is quite dramatic. Any federal role in education, insofar as it exists at all, is conditioned on one of two things: either some larger federal role, such as civil rights, or money. In the case of civil rights, the states must bend to federal law. But in all other areas -- curriculum, organization of instruction, homework, discipline policies, testing and measurement, or the hiring and firing of teachers, for example -- the amendment implies that the federal government can do no more than offer states and localities money and specify the terms. In other words, no compliance, no money; states and localities are free to refuse the funds, and Washington is free to withhold them. That is the theory. The reality, however, is that few states or localities refuse federal funds; the temptation of the "money power" has proven to be nearly irresistible.16
Embedded in this broader debate is the "Mississippi problem." Historically, the federal government treated all states equally; a rule for one was a rule for all. At one level, this is a sensible policy response in a federal system -- the equal treatment of equals. But the federal role in education was not motivated by such considerations; it was motivated by the conviction that there were vast disparities among the states that must be remedied. In this context, treating all states equally caused important problems. By default if not design, Mississippi became the benchmark. At the time of the Great Society, Mississippi was the poorest, lowest spending, lowest achieving, most racially segregated state in the nation. As the largest of the federal government's initial forays into education, Mississippi set the bureaucratic pace for everyone else: the lowest common denominator policy. Management by exception was never entertained; there would be one bureaucracy for all. And so it has remained.17
No matter that some states were more sophisticated and enlightened than official Washington, or that Washington bureaucrats had no claim to superior knowledge or virtue; each state would march to the same drummer. The appeal of "free" money proved to be nearly irresistible. State after state accepted official Washington's largess, and few if any appealed to their congressional delegations to change the rules. It was one-way federalism.
Restoring the Proper Federal Role in Education
The one irresistible impulse of any bureaucracy is to assume power -- indeed, to usurp power -- to serve its own internal dynamic. Put slightly differently, bureaucracy is designed to institutionalize the suspension of judgment, and bureaucracies do precisely what they are designed to do. They are "one-size-fits-all" institutions.
Given the predilections of bureaucracy and the fragility of the education process, what is the compelling reason for a federal Department of Education? Is Washington more virtuous, more competent, more equitable, more knowledgeable, more capable, more caring, more decisive, or more clever than states and localities? Make no mistake: That is the issue. Only something of this magnitude justifies federal involvement in education.18 By way of illustration, it is clear that there is an overriding federal responsibility to guarantee the constitutional rights of all Americans, in school and out. The same is true of national data collection; Washington is better equipped to collect and display the data than any state or locality -- indeed, than all states and localities. In this case, of course, official Washington is the proxy for all states and localities. At the other end of the scale, however, is the management of classroom instruction, curriculum, and textbook adoption. In the best of circumstances, official Washington is capable of little more than offering advice. To control classroom management in Washington does violence to everything that we know about education; its only justification must be political, not pedagogical. And a political justification is, on its face, indefensible.
Members of the House desiring to eliminate the department generally fall into two camps: those who believe it should be eliminated entirely and those who think it should be merged with the Department of Labor and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. The only bill currently under consideration is one that would terminate the department, although there may yet be a merger bill.
The Back to Basics Education Reform Act (H.R. 1883) sponsored by Representatives Joe Scarborough (R-FL) and Steve Chabot (R-OH), seeks to abolish the Department of Education within one year of enactment. The bill rolls all elementary and postsecondary education programs that are not terminated into two separate block grants to the states that are authorized for four years. These grants would be administered by a new Office of Educational Opportunities (OEO) within the Department of Health and Human Services, which also would run student aid programs, IDEA, and other programs not terminated or transferred elsewhere under the bill. The programs transferred to the new OEO would have their administrative accounts reduced by 30 percent, based on their FY 1995 appropriations.
Abolishing the department and returning control of education to parents and to state and local governments would improve education and help to ensure that the federal government does not overregulate and interfere in an area that is fundamentally local in nature.
H.R. 1883 eliminates major portions of the federal bureaucracy, including Titles I-VII and IX-XIV. A few of the larger programs remain intact. Impact Aid, a program designed to aid local school districts educating children living on military installations, is transferred to the Department of Defense. Indian Education programs are transferred to the Department of the Interior.
H.R. 1883 is an excellent vehicle with which to accomplish this precisely because it recognizes explicitly that the "principles of federalism embodied in the Constitution of the United States entrust authority over issues of educational policy to the States and the people and a Federal Department of Education is inconsistent with such principles (Sec. 2.1)."
Representative Steve Gunderson (R-WI) belongs to the merger camp but has yet to draft any legislation. Under his proposal, which currently exists only in outline form, the department would be merged with the Department of Labor and the EEOC, with the intent that a more relevant and efficient delivery system be established in order to ensure that America's children have the necessary knowledge and skills to prepare them for the workplace of the 21st century.19
This proposal is driven primarily by the need to streamline and save, with the stated end goal being to "prepare our youth for the challenges of the 21st century." As Representative Gunderson stated in a press release earlier this year,
By simply consolidating programs and eliminating duplication, we can stem the immense bureaucratic growth of these agencies and realize some savings in the process.... [I]t is not the function of this proposal to debate the merits of each program. Rather, through broad consolidation and coordination of programs, we can make dramatic cost savings and achieve a better federal education and employment system at the same time.
Unlike the Scarborough bill, which uses an underlying philosophy of the proper role of the federal government in education to determine what programs will be retained and where they will be lodged, Gunderson's focuses on streamlining the delivery of existing services rather than on whether the federal government ought to be involved in them at all. Having the Department of Education emphasize "work force preparation and policy" begs the question. Parents educate their children not only for the work force, but also for life. Even if education is tantamount to "work force preparation," that does not compel a federal role in bringing about that objective.
Official Washington's role should be limited to doing those things states and localities cannot do for themselves and that also serve a larger national purpose. The list is short and does not require a Cabinet-level department to implement.
Getting it right
Congress should dismantle federal agencies that do not serve the public interest, and the Department of Education is the most visible example. Conceptually, as Bennett, Alexander, and Finn all have noted:
The federal government should recognize that education in America is "the constitutional responsibility of the states, the social responsibility of communities, and the moral responsibility of families";20
"Except when the civil rights of individuals are menaced, the federal government should never impede the capacity of families, communities and states to decide how best to provide education to their children";21
The bully pulpit is appropriate, but goals and standards must always be truly voluntary; federal funds should not be used as "carrots" or "sticks" in ways that effectively diminish state and local control; and
The federal government should "dedicate itself to (a) fostering family responsibility and local control, (b) assisting states to fulfill their responsibilities as they see fit, (c) providing sound statistics, prompt and accurate assessment results and other information, and (d) safeguarding individuals from illegal discrimination."22
Doing it right
To send responsibility home where it belongs, to transfer legitimate federal functions to other federal agencies, and to eliminate what is unnecessary is the job for Congress. For example:
America's taxpayers no longer believe in major federal solutions to problems that are quintessentially local in nature. Congress can undo the damage and restore education -- lower and higher -- to its rightful place.
The Great Society and the cluster of programs that grew up around it describe the contours of the modern federal role in education. They are nothing if not large, ambitious, bureaucratic, and intrusive. While these programs were introduced for a variety of reasons, the most important was the simplest: the conviction that states and localities could neither get it right nor go it alone. Most Americans no longer believe this (if, indeed, they ever did). It is time to restore education to its rightful role and place; federal involvement has been tried and, by and large, found wanting. The principle that should guide us into the next century is simple: Devolve to states and localities the responsibility for education. That is the necessary first step. The results will be both profound and far-reaching: the restoration of federalism and the revitalization of the nation's schools.
Dismantling the Department of Education
When the Department of Education was created, a number of important programs affecting schools were not transferred from other agencies to its control; as a result, interagency coordination remained a problem. For example, Head Start was left in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services), which also retained control over school lunch programs. The new Cabinet agency in fact consolidated some 25 percent of about 400 federal higher education activities and less than one-third of all educational expenditures then in the federal budget.24
Despite the department's limited scope, opponents who feared the growth of a federal presence in education turned out to be correct. At the beginning of the 1980s, the Department of Education had a budget over $14 billion, 7,000 employees, and as many assistant secretaries as its parent agency, HHS. Today, the department has more than doubled its budget (now over $31 billion) and has more than 240 categorical programs -- 100 more than in 1980. The range of its activities will be broadened even further if, as the Clinton Administration has proposed, it succeeds in establishing its own direct lending program.
Continued federal involvement in education is wasteful and inefficient, and involves responsibilities best left to the states and local communities. The following analysis describes each program, identifies its key problems, and presents a series of recommendations for reform.25 Reform consists of doing one of the following in each case: (1) sending the program back to the states and local communities through an elementary and secondary education or a higher education block grant; (2) transferring the program to another federal agency that can handle the issue more efficiently; or (3) terminating the program because it has outlived its usefulness or is better handled by some other agency.
FY 1995 appropriation figures are given for most programs in order to give a sense of the size of each program and the amount of money that would be saved or transferred to block grants.
Office of Elementary and Secondary Education: Terminate and Transfer Funds
1995 Appropriation: $9.4 billion
The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) should be terminated and its funds turned into an elementary and secondary education block grant administered within HHS in a newly created Office of Education.
I. Education Reform
Goals 2000: Terminate
1995 Appropriation: $408 million
Enacted in 1994, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act provided funds to states, local districts, and schools to develop comprehensive education reform plans. Under the program, states applied to the federal government for funds to be used for academic standards, model curricula, staff training, and student assessments. Goals 2000 established three new federal boards: the National Education Standards and Improvement Council (NESIC), the National Skills Board, and the National Education Goals Panel.
The year-old Goals 2000 legislation, President Clinton's most important education program, has been a failure. Instead of "revolutionizing, revitalizing and reforming" America's schools, as President Clinton promised, Goals 2000 actually has slowed the process of change.26 It has created suffocating new government bureaucracies, increased federal regulations, and boosted federal spending. Worse still, it threatens to undermine progress to improve American education performance by encouraging schools to ignore academic "outputs" -- the results -- and focus instead on obtaining federal dollars by showing Washington that more money is being spent on "inputs." The program also threatens the relationship of students and their families to the education process.
Goals 2000 has failed America's schools in two fundamentally important ways: Building Bureaucracies. Under Goals 2000, three new government bureaucracies were created: the National Education Goals Panel, the National Education Standards and Improvement Council (NESIC), and the National Skills Board. These bureaucracies continue the old, outdated traditions of education "command-and-control" organization that continues to keep control of schools in the hands of education "producers" rather than "consumers."
While Goals 2000 pays lip service to local control, the legislation comes dangerously close to mandating a watered-down national curriculum designed in Washington. The federal government's preliminary foray into identifying national history standards met bitter criticism that the standards were diluted and politically correct. Indeed the proposed standards so clearly distorted American history that the Senate rebuffed them by a 99-1 vote on January 18, 1995.27 This episode indicates one of the inherent dangers in the Goals 2000 approach. If NESIC's members were appointed, it would have become a de facto national school board whose 19 members would approve or disapprove all state-developed plans to meet goals set by the Education Goals Panel. Continuing attempts to "federalize" state and local education discourages real innovation and inhibits the most important school reform initiative of the decade: the movement toward privatization and school choice.
Continued taxpayer funding for Goals 2000's state and national programs will only strengthen the federal government's power to control local reform efforts, hampering efforts at grass-roots reform. Goals 2000 funding should be terminated and the money sent back to the states in the elementary and secondary education block grant to foster real reform such as school choice, vouchers, and magnet and charter schools.28
1995 Appropriations: $125 million
The school-to-work program, funded by the Departments of Education and Labor, was designed to "continue development of comprehensive State and Local school-to-work opportunities systems." Federal money is to be used as seed money to bring about a more comprehensive national program. The School-to-Work Opportunities Act mandates that this program sunset by the year 2001. In its FY 1997 budget request, the Clinton Administration is asking for $200 million (an increase of $75 million over FY 1995) to expand the number of states receiving full implementation grants to 43 and fund national research, technical assistance, and evolution activities. States use grants to establish partnerships representing education, industry, and labor, and to develop new assessments and accountability procedures for their school-to-work systems.
School-to-work programs have existed in various forms for some time and are an important part of preparing our nation's youth to lead productive lives. Nevertheless, both the state and national programs should be terminated. The federal government is not implementing a new idea; it is seeking to provide national leadership in developing a "coherent strategy" to help students move into the workforce out of high school. In an era of budget constraints, it is not appropriate for the federal government to take on such a task. Seed money is not necessarily the answer to the problem of developing effective partnerships between businesses and schools, and state-level partnerships with businesses to set up apprenticeship programs to bring non-college-bound students into a technologically advanced work force do not need federal oversight or funding. It is in the interest of private industry to ensure that workers are properly trained and equipped. States should make the implementation of such programs a priority and aggressively seek funding to provide their youth with a work history that enables them to succeed in today's work force.29
II. Education for the Disadvantaged
Title I: Block Grant and
1995 Appropriation: $7.2 billion
Title I (formerly Chapter 1) funding for local education agencies and schools in areas with high rates of poverty provides additional educational assistance to five million low-achieving students. More than $90 billion has been spent on compensatory education since the program was created in 1965. Despite this huge investment, there is no evidence of any positive effect.30 Mary Jean LeTendre, Director of Compensatory Education during the Bush Administration, admitted that if Chapter 1's performance were displayed on a heart monitor, "We'd either pull the plug or get out the clappers."31
Pre- and post-tests administered to the same groups of students through a Department of Education study show that little progress has been made among Title I students. Comparisons of similar groups of children by grade and poverty show that program participation does not reduce the test score gap for disadvantaged students. Indeed, Chapter 1 student scores declined between the third and fourth grades in all poverty groups.32
Chapter 1 instruction typically is offered for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. However, it contributes only about 10 additional minutes of academic instruction to each child's day. The benefit of additional time spent in Chapter 1 instruction too often is diminished by missed class time. During 1991-1992, 70 percent of elementary classroom teachers reported that students missed some academic subject during Chapter 1 reading/language arts instruction. Of this 70 percent, 56 percent indicated that students were missing regular reading/language arts activities during their Chapter 1 reading/language arts instruction.33
Another significant problem with Chapter 1 is an incentive structure that discourages reaching the very end for which the program was created. Since funds are allocated based on the number of educationally disadvantaged children in a district, as test scores rise so does the risk of losing program money. Having a large population of educationally disadvantaged children ensures funding.
The guiding principle for Title I reform should be reconnecting the program to its true beneficiaries: students, not schools. As it is, Title I commits more than $1,000 to each eligible child; if that money were available as a Title I voucher, it would permit children to select schools that best serve their needs, whether public, private non-sectarian, or private religious. Aid to poor children in elementary and secondary schools should be made available to poor youngsters as a transfer payment on their behalf, or as an education voucher. This should be negotiable in any school that satisfies a state's compulsory attendance statutes, without reference to whether the school is public or private, secular or denominational (as is the case in all other industrialized democracies). The administrative responsibility should be transferred to the states.
As with AFDC and other forms of public assistance, Title I programs are best administered at the state level. Each state has different problems and concerns in educating its population and should be given the latitude to determine policy governing the distribution of funds to help the economically disadvantaged. Communities should be able to implement programs that respond to the needs of their children without being burdened with oversight from Washington.
The following programs from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education's Education for the Disadvantaged should be terminated and the funds returned to the states through an elementary and secondary education block grant administered by the Department of Health and Human Services:
The following Education for the Disadvantaged programs should be terminated with no transfer of funds to the elementary and secondary education block grant:
III. Impact Aid: Terminate
1995 Appropriation: $27.5 million
Impact Aid provides basic support to school districts affected by federal activities. The program was established during World War II to relieve the sudden financial pressure on school districts in which enrollment increased sharply because of an influx of relocated military personnel. Impact Aid Part A compensated school districts for educating children whose families lived on federal property. Impact Aid Part B was almost exclusively for children whose parents worked on federal property but did not live there. More than 2,400 school districts received Impact Aid funds. The Impact Aid program was reauthorized and altered in 1994, and the original categories of "A" children, "B" children, Section 3(d)(2)(B), Disaster Assistance, and Construction were replaced with other forms of assistance. Payments were continued on behalf of children living on Indian lands and children living on federal property who have parents in the armed forces. The 1994 reauthorization ended payments for the other categories of previously eligible children, including "B" children.
This program has outlived its initial purpose and should be terminated. Impact Aid is based on the erroneous premise that military bases and other federal facilities are a cost borne by local communities. This is curious, since communities as a rule lobby heavily for such facilities and complain about the losses that will result if they are closed. In truth, these facilities confer substantial benefits through job creation and the infusion of what may be millions of federal dollars into the local economy. Since local governments evidently are convinced their economies gain from the presence of federal facilities, there seems to be no reason to provide them with Impact Aid as compensation for them.
IV. School Improvement Programs:
1995 Appropriation: $1.3 billion
The Department of Education funds 18 small elementary and secondary programs, many of them designed to address certain perceived needs or as favors to Members of Congress. While many of these School Improvement programs have worthy goals, none can be shown to serve a purpose that cannot be achieved at the state level. All 18 programs should be terminated and a portion of the funds appropriated to the elementary and secondary education block grant proposed at the beginning of this section.
Eisenhower Professional Development
State Grants: Terminate
1995 Appropriation: $251 million
The Eisenhower Professional Development Program provides grants to the states for professional development. This program replaces the Eisenhower Mathematics and Science State Grants, which provided inservice training in mathematics and science. The underlying philosophy of the program is that "Real reform and improvement in elementary and secondary education require a teaching force that is up-to-date in the content areas and skilled in imparting knowledge to diverse populations of students. Only intensive, ongoing professional development will ensure that educators have the knowledge and skills necessary to teach children the challenging State standards."
In its FY 1997 budget request, the Clinton Administration agrees that this program has had "minimal impact on classroom effectiveness," yet still wants to expand it to offer "professional development" in additional subjects. The Administration's request terminates funding for Innovative Education Program Strategies (Title VI) because, as explained the department's FY 1996 budget request, as a block grant it did little to contribute to real education reform since the money was spent primarily on such routine things as equipment.
The Administration assumes that the past failures of both of these programs can be attributed to their block grant status and the inability of states to bring about reform on their own without large-scale federal control and regulation. However, this is contradicted by current studies that attribute the programs' ineffectiveness to faulty assumptions about student performance. For example, in his exhaustive review of 113 studies that examined the relationship between teacher education levels and student performance, University of Rochester economist Eric Hanushek concluded that only eight showed a statistically significant correlation between teachers' advanced degrees and student performance.34 These programs should be terminated not only because professional development is not a federal area, but also because of the overwhelming evidence of their inherent ineffectiveness.
Safe and Drug Free Schools and
1995 Appropriation: $476 million
Under this program, the federal government gives grants to the states (1) to improve cooperation between schools and the broader community so that all available resources are brought to bear on drug and violence problems; (2) to fund a broader range of local activities, including before- and after-school "safe haven" programs; (3) to target more resources to communities with the greatest drug and violence problems; and (4) to increase accountability through a greater emphasis on collection and use of outcome data. The national programs fund federal development of model programs, evaluation of state and local safe and drug-free schools programs, cooperative activities with other federal agencies, direct grants to communities with severe drug and violence problems, and campus drug prevention grants to institutions of higher education.
There is no evidence that this program has been effective in achieving its goals, as no comprehensive audit has been completed since the program was created. Such an audit would be difficult in any event because little is known about what method works best to prevent and reduce substance abuse. A recent study by the Research Triangle Institute, for example, showed that support groups and community service groups increased in number as federal funding reached the schools, but the results are unclear because it cannot be demonstrated that such groups are the best way to combat drugs and violence.35
Money under this program is sent not to areas of specific need, but to 96 percent of the nation's school districts, with many the smaller districts receiving only a few hundred dollars. Moreover, districts that do receive large sums of money are not necessarily spending it wisely. A recent audit of the Fairfax County public schools in Virginia found that the county spent $176,000 of its Safe and Drug Free Schools grant to send hundreds of parents, administrators, teachers, and local business owners to a Maryland resort for meetings described as providing "the background for people to try and intelligently solve problems."36 In Montgomery County, Maryland, administering a $548,000 grant eats up more than $200,000.37
While safe and drug-free schools are a laudable goal, this federal program does little to achieve that goal and duplicates similar efforts such as the Substance Abuse Block Grant, Title XX, the Preventive Health Block Grant, and programs under the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Like education, crime and drug programs are administered best at the local level by individuals who are close to the affected community. States and communities affected by violence and drugs in their schools already are addressing these problems. Federal funding means federal strings that make it more difficult for state and local officials to do their jobs.
Inexpensive Book Distribution:
1995 Appropriation: $10.3 million
A nonprofit organization, RIF (Reading is Fundamental), has been contracted by the Department of Education to distribute free and inexpensive books to areas of particular need. The $10.3 million Inexpensive Book Distribution Program, although a worthy concept, could be funded easily at the state level or by private foundations.
1995 Appropriation: $35 million
This program was created under the 1995 Improving America's Schools Act to assist local education agencies in repairing and rebuilding school facilities. The department recommends terminating funding for the $35 million program due to the administrative complexity caused by the specific requirements LEAs must meet in order to receive assistance.
Arts in Education: Terminate
1995 Appropriation: $10.5 million
This program seeks to promote competency in the arts by encouraging the integration of art into elementary and secondary curricula. Congress should terminate the Arts in Education Program, which should be funded by private organizations or the states. Most of the money under this program goes to just two organizations: the Very Special Arts Organization and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Very little actually reaches the nation's classrooms.
Instruction in Civics, Government and
the Law: Terminate
1995 Appropriation: $4.5 million
This $4.5 million program makes competitive awards for programs that educate the public about the legal system and its underlying philosophical principles. Many of the grantees have been receiving funds since the early 1980s for the same projects and should be able to continue without federal assistance.
Christa McAuliffe Fellowships:
1995 Appropriation: $1.9 million
Scholarships provided by this program fund teacher projects to improve education. Such support is best kept at the state or local level, where the need for recognition of teaching excellence and innovation is more immediate.
Magnet Schools Assistance:
1995 Appropriation: $111 million
The Magnet Schools Assistance program makes grants to local education agencies that are under some sort of desegregation plan, either court-ordered or federally approved. Preference is given to agencies proposing a new or significantly revised program and innovative educational programs. Congress should phase out Magnet Schools Assistance. Like charter schools, magnet schools already are well underway in many districts and are funded and controlled best by local and state authorities.
Education for Homeless Children and
1995 Appropriation: $28.8 million
The objective of this program is to ensure that homeless children have equal access to education, and to run professional development programs to "heighten awareness of the special problems of homeless children and youth." In essence, this program helps to advocate within state budgeting processes for the allocation of other funds for the homeless population. While this may be a worthy goal, it is hardly a federal responsibility.