Who should be in charge of your child’s education -- you or some strangers in Washington, D.C.? It’s a question worth pondering as Congress prepares to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.
As readers of my book, Home Invasion, are aware, I’m a big advocate of what I call “parent-directed education.” We’ve done it all with our three teenagers: private school, public school, homeschool and even a combination of all three. Whatever form it takes, though, parental wisdom should take precedence. And decisions about how a school is run should be as “local” as possible.
NCLB fundamentally undermines the principles of parental choice and local control. As Heritage Foundation education analyst Dan Lips explains in a new paper:
"The Bush Administration's original blueprint for NCLB included some valuable reform principles, such as reducing bureaucracy, promoting state flexibility, and expanding parental choice in education. However, those valuable reform ideas were either watered down or eliminated during the legislative process on Capitol Hill in 2001. The bill that emerged from Congress greatly expanded federal power in education while doing little to eliminate bureaucracy, restore state and local control of education, or empower parents."
Sure, those who measure success by how much money is spent are pleased (though they always clamor for more). Federal spending on education has jumped considerably. The White House’s budget request for FY 2008 would boost NCLB spending to $24.4 billion, a 41 percent increase over FY 2001 levels. Again (in case you missed it the first time) -- they are requesting a spending increase of 41 percent!
We all know that you cannot fix the plethora of education problems by throwing more money at them. If you could, then public schools in the District of Columbia -- where per-pupil spending tops $13,187 -- would lead the nation in academic achievement.
And we all know that too much of the money winds up wasted on ineffective and redundant programs. For FY 2008, Lips notes, the Bush administration has proposed eliminating 44 Education Department programs that cost taxpayers about $2.2 billion annually. Good idea, but the White House has proposed eliminating many of them before, without success, and there’s little reason to think that will change. Expect, for example, to keep shelling out more than $2 million a year for the Women’s Educational Equity Act -- even though female students tend to best male students on test scores and other performance measures (not to mention often receiving preferential treatment when they go off to college).
And what do we get for the money that isn’t wasted? A heavier administrative burden on state and local authorities. NCLB, Lips writes, “created new rules and regulations for schools and significantly increased compliance costs for state and local governments.” The law increased their annual paperwork load, the Office of Management and Budget reports, by more than 6 million hours at an estimated cost of $141 million. In addition, Lips adds, “The federal government now has authority over issues that were once reserved to the local level, such as student testing policies.”
NCLB, like a remedial student, could stand some serious improvement. Fortunately, some lawmakers are set to debate ways to do just that. Legislation known as the “A-PLUS Act” has been introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives. According to Lips, some of the reform proposals found in both versions would help fix NCLB. They would:
- Return control of education policymaking authority to state and local levels. Governors, state legislators and state secretaries of education would make decisions about local schools, moving the decision-making process closer to school leaders, teachers, parents and taxpayers.
- Free state and local governments from the administrative and compliance burden of federal education programs. Because participating states could opt out of many federal program requirements, the A-PLUS Act would significantly reduce the federal administrative and compliance burden on states and local education agencies.
- Allow states to consolidate wasteful or inefficient programs. A-PLUS would allow states to consolidate programs under the “performance agreement” or “declaration of intent.” This would enable state leaders to identify and eliminate ineffective programs.
- Protect transparency and accountability for results. The A-PLUS Act would allow states to maintain state-level testing and information reporting to parents and the public. It also would ensure that states maintain transparency for results while allowing for greater state flexibility to design a testing system that serves local needs. States would have the freedom to implement new testing models without strict oversight from the federal government.
Let’s hope that our elected officials in Washington have learned their lesson. It’s time to put education policy in the hands of parents and local officials. If lawmakers can do that, I predict they’ll get high marks from all across the nation.