Secondary Education - The Failure of Federal Intervention

Posted: May 06, 2008 1:09 PM
Secondary Education - The Failure of Federal Intervention

Since Congress enacted No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in January 2002 at the behest of President George W. Bush there has been no shortage of criticism from both the right and the left. Much of this has been well-deserved, as the program created a massive new network of bureaucracy without producing significant results. In fact, one could argue that the only real positive consequence of NCLB was that it brought attention to the pitiful state of American education. Otherwise it left much to be desired.

Aware of some of the inadequacies of the program, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced new proposed regulations to "strengthen and clarify No Child Left Behind." The regulations address several problems with the program. They would: demand school systems be accountable for results and transparent in their reporting to parents and the public by posting student test scores on national reading and math tests alongside state test scores, require that States publish data from the Nation's Report Card alongside data from their own tests for students (so that they do not exclude too many scores from minority students), allow schools to use multiple types of questions and multiple assessments within a subject area to measure progress (as opposed to the current emphasis on a single test in each area), provide parents with timely information about tutoring options available to help students improve, and ensure the inclusion of all sub-groups of students (generally those from impoverished backgrounds and those in specific minority groups) in each State's accountability system.

In addition, Secretary Spellings proposed the creation of a new National Technical Advisory Council, "made up of experts in the fields of education standards, accountability systems, statistics and psychometrics," to advise the Department of Education on "highly complex and technical issues and ensuring state standards and assessments are of the highest technical quality."

Among the new proposals the one which has garnered the most attention would establish a uniform measurement of graduation and dropout by 2013 among all 50 States to measure more accurately how many high-school freshmen graduate in four years. Currently States calculate graduation rates by their own standards, and many have been criticized for understating, through rather disingenuous measurements, the number of students who do not receive a diploma.

Most of these proposed new regulations are, in theory, good ideas. The problem is that education was and will remain a local issue in spite of the Federal Government's attempts to micromanage every elementary and secondary school in the country. The variety and quantity of student and teacher needs are too numerous for the Federal Government adequately to address them. In fact, these proposals do little more than shuffle students through a monotonous, homogenous factory. There is no creativity; no focus upon improving the quality of local curricula and teaching; no flexibility for students whose interests may be as diverse as automobile mechanics, ancient history, biology, music or agriculture; and no ability to adapt to the needs of local communities. In short, everything valuable about local control of education is missing. It is what is missing, not what is included, that is necessary to improve American education.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all bureaucratic education plan, what we need are higher standards in the classroom, meaningful discipline, a return to rigorous curricula (including proper grammar instruction, the study of foreign languages and a return to primary sources in history rather than watered-down textbooks), better teachers, more parental and community involvement and greater flexibility to address local needs. These would begin the process of reforming American education. As it stands, it is highly unlikely that that expectations saddled to NCLB will be fulfilled.