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As a benefactor of the government institution more commonly referred to as public school, I have found myself questioning the quality of education received by my generation. It seems that one of the favorite political platforms politicians love to use for reasons why to vote them into office is the need for education reform. However, the institution of education has done little to improve the education to the students and seems to have been used more for political resumes for politicians wanting to build their campaign coffers. The purpose of this paper is to discover the true nature of rhetoric used on campaigns by politicians and their effects on the education system. I will focus on the Federal government's role in education as outlined by the United States Constitution as well as our Founding Fathers thoughts of government education. Further study is to present information and statistics by a variety of non-partisan study groups in different key areas of interest on how the United States performs with the rest of the world. It is also important to provide background information of different education legislation and reform that have been passed into law as well. By the time the reader has finished this paper, they should become more knowledgeable in the true nature of the education system and the fallacies that are presented by today's political involvement.
To begin with it is important to understand the actual nature of the Federal Government's responsibility to its citizens concerning education. According to the U.S. Constitution there is no reference or suggestion that the Federal Government is required to establish, maintain, or even provide an educational institution. This should not mean to say that the Founding Father's disagreed with having educated citizens. Obviously the greatest commodity to any State is the intelligence, ingenuity, and ability of a highly educated population. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, argued greatly of the necessity of an educated populous. This in his mind was the way to keep the Republic in tact. The difference from a monarchy or aristocratic society was that all men to acquire an education to enable them to carry out their duties as Republicans (Rush; par. 2). It should be implied though, that the Federal Government should not be required its involvement to such an extent to be characterized as a responsibility or a power. In an article written by David Boaz of the Cato Institute wrote: "The Founders wanted most aspects of life managed by those who were closest to them, either by families, businesses, and other elements of civil society or by state or local government. Certainly, they saw no role for the federal government in education. (Boaz; par. 2)" It is possible that while deliberation of the final draft of the U.S. Constitution, the Framers had been exhausted by the conundrum of overcoming what the previous Continental Congress could not do (to unify the States with a strong central government) but to limit those powers so as to not jeopardize the idea of a Democracy (McCluskey; pg. 13). Education may have just been off the table. History provides that may not be the case. In fact, James Madison and Charles Pinckney did try to insert an amendment that would have created a public university during the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention but the measure was voted 7-4 against it (James Madison's notes pg. 725). George Washington had even tried to implement a National University; this also failed to be ratified with the final draft of the U.S. Constitution. It should be noted though, that in 1787 the Northwest Ordinance was passed a clause that provided land grants for the establishment of educational institutions (US Dept. of Education; pg. 528).
Thomas Jefferson was also quite a proponent of proposing a standard of education within the Federal Government. He felt that literacy was a driving force in sustaining his vision of Democracy. The key to safeguarding and self-governing was based on a standard of knowledge of the individual (Gilreath; pg. 80). "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights" (Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Richard Price, 1789). He drafted and fought hard for a general education that all citizens should be entitled to. It is important to note that since at the time of Jefferson there was no structured school system and only the wealthy could afford to send their children to a private university. His feeling was that a general education, where in effect would act as an equalizer between the laboring and educated classes. He encouraged those who show signs of great intellect should be afforded the opportunity to gain higher learning for the sake of the Republic and therefore at the cost of the federal government. Jefferson failed to pass any legislation that would create a public education system. After his second term of presidency, he returned to Virginia and still advocated public education. In 1819, a partial bill resembling an earlier draft he authored was passed (see: A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge). This bill included tax money to be used as funding education to poor families as well as the establishment of the University of Virginia (Jewett; pg. 110-113).
By the year 1791, fourteen states had drafted and established a state constitution. Out of those fourteen, seven had provisions for a public school system. Even though as the Founding Fathers expressed strongly about education, the interpretation of the tenth amendment allowed the states to implement their own educational institutions without relying on the interference of the federal government. This should be seen as a success given the infancy of the United States. America was growing at a high rate and becoming the melting pot of different cultures that we see today. Large amount of immigration and the development of an economic system built on free market capitalism were still diffusing with one another; as people began to culminate culture, heritage and religious views, the standards of an appropriate education had not been sought out.
Horace Mann was one of the most famous early era education reformers. Serving as the Secretary of Board of Education of Massachusetts in 1837, he began promoting his ideas of what he called a common education throughout the state of Massachusetts. In 1838 he published a journal entitled The Common School Journal. In this journal, he identified different problems and solutions of the known Massachusetts public school system. He instituted policies and promoted elements of education that were not just used by Massachusetts, but by many other states as well. This one man may be the biggest influence on the standardized school system as we know it today. Throughout the next several decades, his ideas were still being implemented throughout the states. Local communities still provided the largest contributions to the public schools with the states still monitoring overall performance.
It was during the Civil War; the first centralizing steps the Federal Government undertook to seize control of the education system were noticed. In the First Morrill Act of 1862, legislation required land grants be given to the development of agricultural and mechanical colleges. During the years of 1865 to 1870, the Freedmen's Bureau required the former confederate states prior to rejoining the Union to establish mandates within their state constitutions that established free public schools (McCluskey; pg 18). Also, in 1867 the first Department of Education was created, it was quickly demoted to an office within the Department of the Interior, after many highly contested debates in congress as of its legitimacy and Constitutionality. These are just a couple of cases that can be seen to provide evidence of the development of federal interference in the role of education. A time line of these events can be found on the Department of Education's website.
The beginning of the Cold War era awoke many prominent Americans in not only as what was perceived as the battle of democracy versus communism, but the utter ruins of the education system that had been fostered under the early 20th century Progressive Education movement led by John Dewey. The Dewey school of thought was that there should be little emphasis on the actual nature of what it is to learn as far as the general subjects (i.e. algebra, grammar, basic sciences) but instead was encouraged how students adapted to their surroundings (Ravitch; pg. 08). The Columbia Online dictionary lists the definition of progressive education as: "set of reformist educational philosophies and methods that emphasize individual instruction, informality in the classroom, and the use of group discussions and laboratories as instructional techniques." The teaching relied on the student more or less. The teacher's role developed into more of a facilitator. Although this type of progressive thought may have held some value on how to socialize and the development of personality traits, the effect was devastating as far as standardized tests would prove. There were many critics of this ideology on how teachers should teach. In 1955, author Rudolf Flesch published "Why Johnny Can't Read." This book in itself was highly influential to the growing movement to identify the reasons the progressive education movement was failing our children. In the book, he argued that "look-say" teaching how to read and write was completely wrong and stressed the importance of phonetics within the educational environment. The Federal Government had enough and when the U.S.S.R. had broken news about its Sputnik program in October of 1957, it made the decision to step in.
The National Defense Education Act of 1958 laid the groundwork to begin the process of centralization of the Federal Government and its involvement with the public schools. As mentioned before, the Cold War Era produced startling facts as the state of despair in the education of our youth. America lagged behind many other industrialized nations in the areas of mathematics and the sciences. These elements were crucial to what the Government would say as was vital to the national security. The National Defense Education Act provided for college loans for those who showed interest in the areas of science and mathematics. Described by President Eisenhower, the NDEA was to be a "short term emergency legislation" in response to the "Sputnik Crisis" (NDEA of 1958: Selected Outcomes; pg. I-1-3).
The National Defense Education Act of 1958 and the immense focus it created as the nature of the public education system beforehand, allowed for politicians to begin focusing on education reform and cries of harsher regulation. Suddenly, the years following the NDEA, congress passed several laws providing extra funding for education programs. One of the most notable and largest parts of educational funding still used today is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It was initially designed for funding for high poverty areas but by the end of the 1960s, it accounted for nearly 60% of all school districts funding. This legislation was heralded as one of the successes of the Johnson Administration's "War on Poverty" programs and accounted for as part of his "The Great Society" thesis. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 owes its roots to the ESEA, as it was just an amended, expanded and reauthorized version. "The enactment of the ESEA revolutionized the federal government's role in education. Prior to the law's passage, educational policy-making had been the near exclusive domain of state and local governments (Nagin; par. 2-4)." This eventually steam rolled into the re-creation of the Department of Education in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. Prior to 1979, the Department of Education was a branch of the larger Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
In 1980, while campaigning for president, Ronald Regan pledged to abolish the Department of Education. Even though he had some success at restraining minor spending, his bill to have it abolished in 1982 fails to pass in law. Part of this is due to the release of a highly publicized report titled A Nation at Risk in 1983. Once again the shortcomings of American public schools are brought to light. In the report commissioned by President Regan, are lists of indicators that identify the status of American education in comparison to several other industrialized nations. Some of these include: no improvement of test scores since the NDEA of 1958, a decline in SAT scores; 23 million Americans were considered illiterate, a decline in scientific and mathematic comprehension and a 72% increase of remedial math courses instituted by four year colleges during the years of 1975-1980. One of the most notable lines in the report suggested that it could possibly be perceived as an act of war considering the mediocrity of education system in the United States. This report is perceived by Congress as an "eye opener" and all thoughts of decreasing the Federal Government's involvement in education spending comes to a standstill. As any politician would do to a gunshot wound, a band aid is applied but nothing to stop the blood is achieved; or to say "just to throw more money at the problem in hopes it will go away."
All of this and much more including President Clinton's reformed "Head Start Program," President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" and now President Obama's "Racing to the Top" education programs can be simply cured by increasing the budget of the Department of Education. Understandably, it is too early to criticize Obama's education reform but however, history has a way of repeating itself. The statistics speak for themselves. The original budget of the Department Of Education given in constant 2009 dollars researched by the Cato Institute (http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/education) was approximately 39 billion dollars. Since then the budget has doubled, approaching 80 billion. Obviously, the largest impact has been President Bush's No Child Left behind Act signed in 2001. The annual budget for the Department of Education went from approximately 45 billion to 55 billion between the years 2001 and 2002 respectively, the first year the new reform went into effect. With all the increased spending that has been occurring over the several years, a reasonable amount of success should account for a positive investment to the American taxpayers who involuntarily foot the bill for the Department of Education. Not surprisingly, little progress has been made in the ability of American students to compete with the international education community.
So why have there been so many failures within the centralization of the federal government and its war on providing a better education to students? What have been the results in the increasing tax dollars for a Department of Education that has its budget nearly doubled since 2001? To address any indicator on the exact blame is still yet to be settled. However, the argument can be made that responsibility can go up and down the educational latter. Beginning with the quality of teachers at the local schools to the superintendants of school districts all the way up to higher authority to the state level and above to the federal level. Another fault critics say is the implementation of standardized testing and benchmarks goals set on schools to obtain federal funding that only hinders the student from an adequate education as the teacher only instructs on the test itself. One thing remains certain, as the battle continues to wage on, the ones who suffer the most loss is the students themselves. In the end, this problem will have larger devastating effects on America altogether as generations of students raise their own families and the same poor quality of education is reintroduced to a new generation. This failure to produce a higher quality of education in America will equate to difficulties in competing with a world that is able to become more ingenious, industrious, and self-reliant. Thomas Jefferson's greatest fear was to have an uneducated populace. This he believed would be the fall of the Republic. "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be (Jefferson in a letter to Colonel Charles Yancey dated 6th of January 1816)."
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is a Department of Education authorized research group that tracks and monitors various education statistics ranging from performance in K-12 and on to college. Every year they submit their findings to the Department of Education to track the progress on how the American public schools and private schools perform based on the current goals set by the department. They reported in the fall of 2009, an estimated 49.8 million students will be enrolled throughout the 99,000 public elementary and secondary schools across America. The NCES reports that 35 million students will be in the pre-k through 8th grade schools while only 14.8 million will be in the grades 9-12th. This illustrates a population increase during the mid to late 1990s and therefore, could be seen as a reason for the larger increase in federal funding of schools. However, in 1980 (the inaugural year of the Department of Education) the stats were roughly the same. According to the same NCES reports, they published a timeline indicating the number of students between the same grades. A total number of 40.8 million students were registered for fall classes in 1980 (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2009/section1/table-enl-1.asp). They also conclude that $543 billion will be spent through out the entire school year on education expenditures for all the public schools. This equates out to the cost of $10, 844 dollars per student per year (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372.)
They have discovered though that small successes have been made since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act was introduced. In 2004, the NCES states that reading scores at age nine had improved more than any other assessment year, but at age thirteen, the same score was not significantly greater than in 1999. Interesting enough, the statistics provided on the NCES website also show a timeline of how students have tested over a 30 year period. Once again, using 1980 as a reference point to illustrate the uselessness of the Department of Education; from 1980 till 2004 there had been little improved results in the areas of reading comprehension. The largest increase had been made at the highest reading level tested for nine year olds, which jumped from 16% in 1999 to 20% in 2004. However, the same results for 13 year olds and 17 year old students were not replicated. The reading comprehension tested at these ages has an extra scoring category that students should be achieving for. The students that were rated at a comprehension efficiency of 300 or more, actually dropped between the years 1999 and 2004. This data can be found at the following website: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/dt05_111.asp.
The big question that many of the readers may have is how this stacks up internationally. There are many sources that account for the tracking of educational statistics. The most recognized program is sponsored by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD's main education authority is known as the Performance for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA releases a report every three years evaluating how member and some of the partner states are performing in education. These surveys are conducted on how well fifteen year old students are performing. They try to answer some basic question such as: "Can they analyze reason and communicate effectively? Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life?( http://www.pisa.oecd.org) " Of the 29 member states, the United States scored 24 points below the OECD average score of a 498 in mathematics literacy. This ranks them 25th in the member nations. There are also 27 member states that participate in the study, which explains the average 498 being as high. Out of all participating states, the United States ranks 35th altogether out of 50 states total. To put this in perspective, the highest ranking state was Taipei with a score of 549. The lowest score observed belongs to Kyrgyzstan with a score of 311. Canada our northern neighbors, had a high score and ranked in the top five with a 527; despite the fact very little federal interference is legislated in the education system. Considering that I used reading comprehension in the aforementioned paragraphs, it is not possible to determine the rankings of the United States due to an error while testing for the 2006 survey. The results for science literacy are available and it ranks the United States 21st out of the 29 OECD member nations and 30th overall. This is the ending results of billions of tax payer money beginning with the National Defense and Education Act of 1958, a program designed specifically for the strengthening of mathematics and sciences in the American education system.
There is good news. Not all public schools are a failure. There are some very good public schools, and with an expansion of student vouchers and the elimination of school districts, parents will have more options when determining their child's education. There may have been no other outspoken person than economist Milton Friedman who promoted the cause of school choice. Freidman wrote many essays, gave many lectures and provided many interviews on his views of school choice. Freidman believed that giving school choice to parents and not succumbing to poorer (in terms of educational achievement) schools would promote a healthy competition and equality across the board in terms of education. "We can strengthen the foundations of our freedom and give fuller meaning to equality of educational opportunity (Friedman)." Milton Freidman and his wife Rose established the Freedom of School Choice Foundation and since his death, supporters of his cause have continued to carry out their work to promote his ideas. The basic thought behind school choice and the use of student vouchers is that the public school system has done more to segregate students than any other institution and have not lived up to the ideas of the Founding Fathers had in mind (Friedman, "The Role of Government in Education"). It is no surprise that urban schools, where lower class income earners more frequently populate, do not raise sufficient funds within the community to warrant the same quality of teachers and educational opportunities afforded higher income communities. With school district lines determined by bureaucrats, parents have no choice in what schools they can send their child unless they are able to afford private institutions or move. The choice for private schools is usually highly desirable compared to the option of public schools. Later in this paper, I will explain how private schools continually outperform public schools. "Studies show that school choice leads to better test scores for all students and higher graduation rates. They show that parents are more satisfied and involved with their child's school, and that school choice saves taxpayers millions of dollars. And they show that public schools respond positively to competition (http://www.edchoice.org/schoolchoice/why.jsp). "
School Voucher programs have remained decentralized from the federal government. The program has been instituted throughout 14 states and Washington D.C. (Forster; pg. 10). Forster makes the argument in his essay that Americans have the choice in any other matter pertaining to their individual life with the exception of deciding where there children obtain their education from K-12 school. A very interesting point, why is there not more public outcry for the freedom of school choice? Especially since 16 of the 17 major studies that have proved school voucher program have been effective. The only other study showed no empirical evidence to support an improvement or have been responsible for hurting school outcomes (Forster; pg. 16). The difference between the various eligibility requirements of the school choice programs makes it difficult to compare across the entire nation of public schools. Those who are interested in the case studies examined by Forester in his essay may find the information located at the following website: http://www.edchoice.org/downloadFile.do?id=357.
As mentioned before, not all of America's educational institutions are a failure. I stated above that private schools outperform their government, tax-payer funded counterparts. One of the reasons this is the case is usually due to the student to teacher ratio. The population of private schools is more likely to be smaller than public schools. This allows a private school teacher more time devoted to individual students. This is a simple explanation to why private schools outperform public schools. However, there is a better explanation and that relies on a fundamental belief in the open market economics. Private schools, unlike public schools rely on parents to stay in business. Parents who give their hard earned income to a private school to pay for tuition expect a better quality of education for their children. The private school, does not answer to a large bureaucracy and avoids a long set of red tape procedures and regulations. This ability allows private school to actually focus on the essentials of the service they provide and must remain competitive if they are to stay in business. Opponents criticize private schools and will tell you that private schools are only better because of the demographic make up of the school. However, in recent studies in place where socioeconomic status are controlled, allowing for more of a diversified student population and eliminating the theory that "rich kids just do better," private schools still have outperformed traditional public schools. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as the Nation's Report Card, reports that even though test scores have improved in the area of mathematics in nine year olds in public schools, private schools still test better (http://nationsreportcard.gov/ltt_2008/ltt0006.asp). I have chosen to provide the results of mathematics because most experts agree that mathematics is a more true evaluation of how well a school is performing. They argue that reading literacy has more outside factors that can contribute to a child's ability. The NAEP website provides a more in depth amount of information on the statistics of private schools and public schools.
If America is to compete on an international scale in productivity, ingenuity and intellectually, it is imperative that the American public wakes up and addresses the education system in America. The Founding Fathers provided that ability for States to be in charge of their own standards of education. This is to promote a highly competitive market for education that the parents can have more rights in determining the success of their children. The Founding Fathers stressed the importance of a highly educated populace that is needed to protect the Republic they founded and avoid the tyranny of an overbearing government. The failing of the education system has roots in a progressive school of thought that has allowed federal intervention to take control. This has only resulted in a further downward spiral of the educational system at the cost of the United States.
Since the 1960s when the federal government has had more success in centralizing the educational system in America, there has been little progress made. The American tax payers are forced to waste their taxes on a system that is failing America. A Department of Education, which is unconstitutional, has only promoted more reforms and laws than results. This will only multiply as generations upon generations continue to become educated in this way. It will allow for the fall of the Republic if an elitist system is allowed to prevail. Internationally, America will not be able to compete, as the results already indicate, what once was uncontested the most powerful nation in the world, will fall victim to other nations who may want to take advantage of these weaknesses; whether it be economically, or by more violent means, militarily.
The bureaucracy created has done little to promote the advancement of education and has led only to promoting political resumes. If politicians are serious about correcting the fallacies of the education system and the failure of the Department of Education, a return to simple open market freedom of choice has proven to be a better success than a $78 billion garbage bin that grows year after year. The advancement of school choice will only promote schools to become better as competition in the market place will open up. The theory of open market competition in schools has been a staple in the success of private school institutions for quite some time. The American public should be made more aware of these results and demand the same freedom of school choice and standards of education that their tax payer dollars are contributing to.