Education, Slogans, and Dollars<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
By <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Kerby Anderson
Each year the federal government seems to be taking over more aspects of American education. This federalization of education weakens local control and has not improved academic performance in this country.
This began during the Clinton administration when three key pieces of legislation were passed in 1994. They were the Goals 2000 Act, the School-to-Work Act, and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. By the time the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was passed in 2001, the final elements of federal control were put in place.
A little history may be in order. This master plan for the federal takeover of public schools can be found in an eighteen page letter written by Marc Tucker to Hillary Clinton on November 11, 1992. Marc Tucker was the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy and was laying out the plan "to remold the entire American system" of education. His plan was to establish what he called "a seamless web that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone." This would be coordinated by "a system of labor market boards at the local, state and federal levels" where curriculum and job matching will be handled by counselors.
This is effectively what bills like School-to-Work did. In essence Marc Tucker's plan (and this legislation) changed the focus of public schools from teaching children to training them to serve in prescribed jobs within the global economy. Moreover, NCLB expanded federal control by establishing national standards of accountability for states and school districts.
Each of these bills was sold to legislators and the American people with nice sounding slogans. We were going to "prepare children for the global economy." We were going to measure educational outcomes. And we wanted to make sure that "no child would be left behind" (a phrase borrowed from a line by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird). But did all of this legislation and all of this money make a difference?
Consider that billions of dollars of federal money have poured into public schools over the last two decades, yet there is no correlation with improved performance or even better test scores. The federal government has even spent billions of dollars to wire classrooms for the Internet in order to remedy what has been called the digital divide. (By the way, this is paid for by a tax on your telephone bill, often called "the Gore tax.") But again, researchers found that there was no significant improvement in academic performance.
All these massive appropriations to education have accomplished one thing: it's made liberals lobby for even more money. President Bush rightly acknowledged at the time that the NCLB Act was the most expensive federal education bill every passed. But Senator Kennedy now calls it merely a "tin cup" appropriation and chides the administration for not spending even more on education.
All these bills have also made many parents and students mad. First, there are those who flunked these nationally-mandated tests. Parents have been in an uproar over the tens of thousands of students who flunked these tests. Threats of withholding diplomas have resulted in everything from angry letters and phone calls to administrators to demonstrations in front of schools and in the streets. Faced with such hostility, it's not surprising that some schools have tried to avoid conflicts by awarding diplomas that were not deserved, lowering standards, and even seeking test waivers from the federal government.
Second, are the students who are upset when they finally realize that they have been cheated. If the school withholds their diploma, they are angry that they were promoted through twelve grades only to find out they were not educated properly. If they do get their diploma, they soon find out in the job market that their diploma isn't worth the paper it is printed on.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has discovered that more than one-third of fourth graders cannot read at a "basic" level, and this includes six in ten African-American students. By twelfth grade, at least one in four still cannot read at a "basic" level. These students are not at fault. The public education system has let them down.
America should not have to be worrying that one-fourth of twelfth graders cannot read. After all, this is a skill that should have been taught in the first grade. If we teach elementary school children phonics, then they have the skills to decode the English language. But when they learn the "look-say" method, they are merely memorizing a few necessary words and will never be able to read effectively.
Educators and politicians have been kidding themselves and us for years. They tell us the public education is improving and just a few more billion dollars will raise academic performance even more. Nothing could be further from the truth.
John Stossel, in his ABC News 20/20 report "Stupid in America" documented how American students do on international tests. He found that at age 10, American kids place well above the international average. But by age 15, Americans place well below the international average. He found that "the longer American kids stay in American schools, the worse they do. They do worse than kids from much poorer countries, like Korea and Poland."
That leads to the other issue: money. Jay Greene, author of the book, Education Myths, points out that if money were the solution to poor academic performance, the problem would already be solved. He says: "We've doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years, and yet schools aren't better."
We are spending more money that at any time in the history of American education and yet national graduation rates and achievement scores are flat. The conclusion is simple: "more money hasn't helped American kids."
Declining academic performance isn't the only problem with the public schools.
The curriculum of the public schools is having a corrosive effect on the Christian faith of students who attend these government schools. Two recent books that clearly document this are Marlin Maddoux's book Public Education Against America and Brannon Howse's book One Nation Under Man.
But even apart from these concerns, the public schools cannot even say they are doing an adequate job of educating young people for leadership in the 21st century. We are spending more and achieving less than any time in the history of American education.
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