Bill Murchison

Anyone who sees health policy as a trackless jungle for policymakers should take a gander at education policy as mediated by the federal government.

Anyone who thinks U.S. public schools are better overall than when the federal government muscled its way into a policy jurisdiction reserved generally to the states -- careful about jostling sleepwalkers.

Oh, well, here we go again. The new Obama budget provisionally awards public education $6.2 billion more than the last time, for a total of $49.7 billion. The budget contemplates overhaul of the No Child Left Behind law, that artifact of the early Bush years.

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President Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, who is portrayed as one of the cabinet's wiser figures, hopes to promote increased competition for federal funds. He hopes Congress will scrap the "utopian goal," as he calls it, of having every child read and do math at grade level by 2014. The objective henceforth would be to make sure students graduate "college- and career-ready" -- CCR in Washington-speak.

Education reform's congruence with health care reform stems from the same peppy expectation that the central government is both well-placed and well-qualified to direct the remedial process. The central government is huge and hyper with lots of taxpayer money. The government thinks that means it can tell ordinary people what they need, when in fact the realities of health and education are larger than any government could ever master. These realities rest in human abilities, human talents, human cussedness. No government has ever succeeded in lining these factors up together and making them march.

Though we're certainly trying these days, aren't we?

Leave aside health care, a subject scrubbed almost to death these past eight or 10 awful months. What about schools? Can't government -- given that the great majority of American kids are in government schools of one kind or another -- make an impact on education? Certainly, but the matter is complex, hence hard for government authority figures to address.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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