March 15, 2010

Why is the federal government involved in education anyway?

Obama is announcing his plan for changing the No Child Left Behind law, including dumping the current mandate that every child in America score as "proficient" in reading and math by 2014 as "utopian."

(Update: Actually, Obama has decided to pass on that. From the WP:
Obama's plan leapfrogs over the tough question of whether to eliminate the 2014 goal of proficiency for all. In essence, the administration is leaving that up to Congress. Instead, Obama points toward a new goal that would take effect in stages over the next few years: for all students to meet "college- and career-ready" standards by 2020.)

But why does the federal government exercise effective control over local public schools anyway?

Back in the post-Sputnik era, a chief reason offered for federal intervention was the huge differences in wealth among the states demanded that the federal government pitch in to help equalize resources. Yet, it's not clear to me that those between-state differences are all that important anymore as cost-of-living differences have emerged. For example, up through 1975, California had both a highly productive economy and housing costs no higher than the national average. So, sure, it was easier then for California to afford schoolteachers (not to mention a fabulous system of public universities) than it was for Mississippi. So, the argument went, if there was some smart kid in Mississippi, he might not get as good an education as if he was in California, and therefore the federal government should supplement state and local spending on education.

Today, though, differences in spending ability between states have been rendered less striking by higher costs-of-living in high income states. And, indeed, that old-fashioned argument for federal involvement in schooling has largely disappeared.

Today, in contrast, the obsession of the federal No Child Left Behind act is with closing the racial gaps in students' performance -- which are virtually the same in every state (and even in every school district) in the United States. So, what is the justification for federal involvement?

It's not as if some states or school districts have discovered solutions for racial gaps, and the federal government only needs to impose those solutions on a few recalcitrant bigoted states. In fact, the most liberal of the 51 "states," the one that is most under control of Congress, the District of Columbia, has by far the largest white-black gap in test scores of any in the country.

So, if nobody has yet discovered how to close the racial gap, then why federalize education? Why not let 51 flowers bloom and see if anybody comes up with a solution?

Why not have more competition between states and between school districts within states? In Southern California, the suburban San Gabriel Valley long played second fiddle to the more close-in suburban San Fernando Valley, but the San Gabriel Valley has surged ahead in recent years, largely because it has a wide variety of competing school districts, such as Arcadia (where my cousins went to public school) while most of the San Fernando Valley is under the not very competitive Los Angeles Unified School District.

So, why reproduce the LAUSD on a national scale?

Clearly, the main reason for the tightening grip of the federal government on local education is simply that the most ambitious politicians, such as Bush and Obama, go into federal politics and they grab the most appealing issues (Fix the schools!) and try to deal with them at the federal level.

That's not a good reason.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

A guy told me Ron Paul was nuts for wanting to abolish the Department of Education. When I told him that the DOE was founded in 1979, he did not have a rebuttal.

What did the US do before the DOE in 1979?

Anonymous said...

It's not about academic achievement, as I see it. It's about inculcating the correct point of view into the minds of the young. All types of people with agendas try to worm their way into the field of education. Bill Ayers comes to mind here. Perhaps they should drop all this pretense and just appoint him czar of the Dept. of Indoctrination.

Anonymous said...

Another noose story.

It seems no instance of student tom foolery is small enough to fly under ACLU radar.

String noose at Kansas City-area high school brings federal investigation
By Associated Press
4:53 PM CDT, March 14, 2010
PECULIAR, Mo. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union says a suburban Kansas City superintendent missed the point with the remarks he made after two white students gave a black student a noose made out of string.

Raymore-Peculiar school district Superintendent Jeff Kyle told KCTV that it would be hard to hurt anybody with the string noose and that it didn't fit his image of a large piece of rope used to hang outlaws in the Old West.

The two white students received three days of in-school suspension.

Doug Bonney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and western Missouri told Kyle in a letter that any noose carries with it "the legacy of lynchings."

The Kansas City Star reported that the U.S Education and Justice departments are investigating how the matter was handled.

___

Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

Anonymous said...

Plenty of reasonable conservatives find the general idea of leaving education and other public services up to the states commonsensical and philosophically appealing, yet haven't always considered obvious implications, or the company they're keeping.

During recessions, when states face unexpected revenue shortfalls yet are still required to balance budgets (except Vermont), cutbacks inevitably harm education.

To movement conservatives and much of the Republican establishment, this "50 Herbert Hoovers" scenario is not a bug of state control over schooling, but a feature, since people like Grover Norquist actually dislike the idea of effective public education on principle.

In a sane world with fewer nutcases on both the left and right, the feds would agree to stabilize funding during recessions to keep class sizes under control, without pushing any crazy mandates.

Enoch Powell Was Right said...

Didn't Republicans like Reagan used to want to abolish the Department of Education? The main reason the feds want to interfere with "education" is that it has become little more than a program of radical marxist political indoctrination with "privileged whites" as the new class enemy. Every time I hear some fool lying about "closing the achievement gap" I want to put my foot through the TV.

Anonymous said...

The federal government will soon be involved in everything. Govt is application of force, the Federal Govt is the bigger force. Everything decided by individuals, markets, other institutions, tradition, will be subsumed under Federal direction. Everything. Force trumps money, persuasion, anything. Look at Pharo, Rome, Alexander. A competition between jails, handcuffs and guns on one side and anthing on the other resultes in the former winning.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

the racial gaps in students' performance...are virtually the same in every state (and even in every school district) in the United States.

This is something I've wondered about, but on an international scale. Are there countries in which minority (or, in some contexts, majority) black populations have achieved something close to economic parity with the majority population? Or do the gaps still persist? And, if there's variance from country to country, how does the variance correlate with other factors within those countries (income or GDP per capita, for instance)? And, of course, where does the U.S. stand in that pecking order?

My (wholly unscientific) impression is that despite the varied experience of the African diaspora, the results are depressingly monotonous.

Whiskey said...

Its like ObamaCare. Buried in ObamaCare is a series of racial quotas for medical schools.

Your Doctor has to be Black rather than the best. Thing is, that's a winner for about half the population, and certainly the media and a lot of women (until they worry about breast cancer).

rightsaidfred said...

Stalin and Mao did the collectivization of agriculture thing. I guess their modern day equivalents are into collectivization of education.

Anonymous said...

I am not an expert on education,but what difference would it make if everyone got straight A's?Is that going to create more high paying jobs? There will be just more angry,bitter people who haven't attained a certain standard of living that they expected. Education is just an arms race that is a big lie for most people. There are already educated IT people and engineers who are being displaced by foreigners.

Reactionary said...

It's for the children, Steve-o. Why do you hate children so much? It must be because you're a Hitler-loving Nazi.

FelixM said...

and, just to be neanderthal, why is the federal government involved in domestic health care anyway?

Couchscientist said...

they probably would argue the same kind of things they would argue about why the state should be involved to begin with---investing in the future, etc---but just argue that no state could devote the same amount of resources as the nation pooled together. Of course it's all bunk. There needs to be a massive rejection of public school in general. If enough people would just stop going to public schools they would have to give in and make voucher paid private schools the norm. Under a voucher system, if you don't like diversity, athesism, etc., you don't need to have it.

Mark said...

Are there countries in which minority (or, in some contexts, majority) black populations have achieved something close to economic parity with the majority population?

I'd bet that the income gap is actually larger in black-majority countries. In terms of income gaps blacks probably do the best in Canada and the US.

What's more, a white European moving to the United States will, on average, see an increase in income of maybe 10-30%. Depending on the country he's coming from in some cases it may double, in some cases it may actually shrink.

But a black coming from almost any African country will see an increase in income of 10, 20 or even 100 times what he was earning in his home country.

Every time I hear some fool lying about "closing the achievement gap" I want to put my foot through the TV.

Everytime I hear someone talking about closing the "achievement gap" I ask them if they mean the achievement gap between European-Americans and Asian-Americans.

I'd wager Obama hasn't even thought about that gap and wouldn't care about it were someone on his staff to mention it.

Anonymous said...

Why is the federal government involved in .....
education, housing, diversity, and 1000+ other things?

so no one notices they aren't doing what they should be doing...like enforcing our borders.

Anonymous said...

Are there countries in which minority (or, in some contexts, majority) black populations have achieved something close to economic parity with the majority population?

From the BBC, "Black boys may have to be separated from classmates to help improve school performance, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality has suggested."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/4323979.stm

Anonymous said...

"National Education Technology Plan"
http://www.ed.gov/technology/netp-2010


The summary provides several priceless quotes just on the first page:
http://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/NETP-2010-exec-summary.pdf

Anonymous said...

The simplest answer is that anything Obama proposes now won't be a success or failure until he's a lame duck 2nd termer at least. In the next presidential debate he can talk up all the great things he set in motion, and he'll be long gone by the time they fail. Typical politician.

jody said...

i have also talked to otherwise smart and knowledgeable people who cannot believe the department of education only came into existence in 1980. they all seem to be under the impression it has always existed.

you can see how quickly background ideas and knowledge can change. it took less than 30 years for even smart americans to "know" that the federal government has always run the schools. wonder what other impressions the government is working on putting into their minds? oh wait, we pretty much cover that all the time at steve's blog. even smart people, for instance, are under the impression that massive waves of human immigration are an unstoppable physical force. humans just naturally flow across borders, it's literally impossible to prevent this or to even control it. the people who run DHS and INS said so, and they must be right.

i've posted before about what an epic failure the department of energy has been. it could disappear tomorrow and the government would run better. DOE is perhaps carter's biggest mistake, a multi-billion dollar sinkhole that lives forever, gobbling up taxpayer money and producing the exact opposite of what it was established to produce: fewer oil imports.

jody said...

speaking of racial gaps, the NCAA is in alarm mode now, as the graduation rate disparity between white basketball players and black basketball players is at an all-time high, and growing.

few of the players, white or black, should even be in college, but like all diversicrats, the people in charge of these matters won't even consider this angle.

Richard Hoste said...

Today, in contrast, the obsession of the federal No Child Left Behind act is with closing the racial gaps in students' performance -- which are virtually the same in every state (and even in every school district) in the United States. So, what is the justification for federal involvement?

What if some states didn't care about closing the racial gap? Can't have that.

silly girl said...

"i have also talked to otherwise smart and knowledgeable people who cannot believe the department of education only came into existence in 1980. they all seem to be under the impression it has always existed.

"you can see how quickly background ideas and knowledge can change. it took less than 30 years for even smart americans to "know" that the federal government has always run the schools. "


Well, it is not like they teach you that in school, nor is it discussed in media etc. Imagine how much more info would be overlooked but for the internet.

Anonymous said...

Same reason why a dog licks its balls.

Because it CAN.

eh said...

So, what is the justification for federal involvement?

Unlike voting rights etc back in the Jim Crow days, with education there does not seem to be a close tie to the Constitution. But I guess it's assumed these gaps are, similarly, caused by some sort of local discrimination or inequity, and the central government has to step in to fix it, because obviously the locals can't.

...which are virtually the same in every state (and even in every school district) in the United States.

That just indicates the scope of the problem -- the depth and breadth of the 'institutional racism' behind it, so to speak.

I don't think anyone in the federal decision-making bureaucracy thinks too much further than that. For example, about HBD aspects. Even if they have suspicions, it's too dangerous professionally to go there.

Anonymous said...

There is much less justification for Federal involvement in health care or education than there is in civil rights. Civil rights statutes are intended to enforce the 14th Amendment. An argument can be made that civil rights laws go too far (I personally subscribe to this argument), but there is really non constitutional provision for Federal tinkering in education. The 10th Amendment prohibits it, because no specific constitutional provision allows it.