Have We Learned Something Good From the Department of Education?
The question of whether the U.S. Dept. of Education should be eliminated is probably not a question that should be answered by looking to the "top" of the pyramid, where getting rid of it makes a sexy soundbite in this 2012 election, but to the "bottom" where students, teachers and parents are experiencing its effects.
Right now, it's playing out as the Republican crusaders are going to halt that out of control Democrat Barack Obama in his tracks before he can cross that line between federal and states rights by using the Department of Education to resolve the impending student loan crisis. Obama lost me when he thought it would be a good idea for the feds to get into the banking, healthcare and auto industries. And I don't know that it's appropriate for the feds to resolve the student loan crisis. But shuttering the department is election year politics and fails to acknowledge that the Department of Education and the "No Child left Behind" act have had bi-partisan support in the past. And specific pieces of it were even voted for or praised by the Republican candidates themselves, including Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Most importantly, test scores are rising.
It was a Democrat, President Jimmy Carter, who brought the Dept. of Education back to cabinet level status. But it was Republican George W. Bush who gave it teeth when he helped usher in "No Child left Behind." (That's right folks, a Republican who was concerned that students, especially minorities, were the victims of soft expectations in districts where bad teachers and inadequate funding were often to blame for low test scores.) "No Child left Behind," is an Act of Congress passed by a bi-partisan group spearheaded by Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. John Boehner of Ohio that forces schools to meet certain standards to have access to federal education funds. As an aside, i would like to point out that Boehner and Kennedy are as far right a Republican and as far left a Democrat as we've seen. Proof that our politicians can work together when they try hard enough. (Hey D.C.! Is anybody listening?)
As a parent, the Dept. of Education and No Child left Behind allow you to get your school's report card by going to websites like the following: http://www.greatschools.org/improvement/quality-teaching/61-no-child-left-behind.gs. You can also get free help with reading for your child, transfer to a different school if the school is failing or help teachers get funding for retraining. You could argue that these laws put control, not in the federal government's hands but in the hands of parents, students and teachers.
According to Wikipedia, most states have seen test scores rise since "No Child Left Behind" was enacted. The Department of Education points to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, released in July 2005, showing improved student achievement in reading and math:
- More progress was made by nine-year-olds in reading in the last five years than in the previous 28 years combined.
- America's nine-year-olds posted the best scores in reading (since 1971) and math (since 1973) in the history of the report. America's 13-year-olds earned the highest math scores the test ever recorded.
- Reading and math scores for black and Hispanic nine-year-olds reached an all-time high.
- Achievement gaps in reading and math between white and black nine-year-olds and between white and Hispanic nine-year-olds are at an all-time low.
- Forty-three states and the District of Columbia either improved academically or held steady in all categories (fourth- and eighth-grade reading and fourth- and eighth-grade math).
In closing, I would say that, like Planned Parenthood, this is a wonderful issue for Republicans to show their concern for those whose access to quality education is limited because of race, income and geography. Every child should know how to read. And the states and local controls weren't enough. Thank God one Republican was married to a school teacher who cared. Way to go, W! It would be nice if you and the party got credit for caring and if the current crop of candidates could reflect the positive impact Republicans have had on student test scores.