We at CFIF have repeatedly highlighted America's desperate need for more skilled science, technology…
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America Desperately Needs More Skilled STEM Workers, and We Should Steal Them from Russia

We at CFIF have repeatedly highlighted America's desperate need for more skilled science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers.  In an increasingly information-based global economy, legal immigration by people with advanced degrees and valuable expertise to the United States must be encouraged, as even President Donald Trump advocated.

In that vein, we've also highlighted how desirable a destination the U.S. is to STEM talent, and how many openly seek to come to our shores, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which was named the top defense and national security think tank in the world.  "Only about 10 percent of international scientists and engineers seemed open to moving to China," CSIS found, "compared to nearly 60 percent for the…[more]

May 25, 2022 • 07:38 PM

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The Biggest, Boldest School Reform? Leaving Education to States and Locals Print
By Ben Boychuk
Thursday, June 11 2015
The question is why the federal government should have any role whatsoever in deciding what those standards are and how the states must implement them.

Congress once again is at a standstill in its effort to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, the sweeping 2001 federal education law mandating that states make yearly gains in student achievement in exchange for tens of billions in school funds. Although the law technically expired in 2007, Republicans and Democrats have agreed to let it continue until they can agree on what, if anything, should replace it.

The correct answer would be “nothing,” since the U.S. Constitution says nothing whatsoever about Congress or the executive branch playing a role in education. The Constitution’s framers understood that education was crucial to maintaining self-government — and that self-government lives and breathes at the state and local levels.

Nevertheless, Congress began seriously meddling with America’s public schools in 1965, and hasn’t looked back.

No Child Left Behind was born of the very best intentions. In the late 1990s, it was clear that U.S. student academic achievement was suffering. In particular, white students were far outpacing black students on reading and math tests. Closing the so-called achievement gap was at the heart of the 2001 law’s reforms.

What most people tend to forget, however, is that No Child Left Behind had its origins in a successful state initiative. Then-Governor George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 on his record in Texas of narrowing the black-white achievement gap through stringent school accountability measures. If Texas could do it, why not the whole country?

The deeper lesson should have been that state education reforms succeed as often as not because they’re state reforms. What worked in Texas may or may not work in New York or Alaska.

Some Republican governors with presidential aspirations seem to have missed the point. In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register this week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker touted his record in Wisconsin in making the case for “big, bold reforms to improve our schools.”

Some of Walker’s reforms in Wisconsin have been notably successful — in particular the 2011 law eliminating teacher tenure and seniority rules. Keeping low-performing teachers in classrooms at the expense of younger, more talented hires served no purpose except to satisfy teacher union priorities.

“If we can do it in Wisconsin,” Walker concludes, “there is no reason we can’t push positive education reforms across the country.” True — every state ought to have the widest latitude to enact reforms best suited to their local and regional needs. But that isn’t how the U.S. Department of Education operates.

Walker is one of several GOP presidential candidates who supported the Common Core State Standards before reversing his stance. Common Core was sold as a state-led, voluntary initiative to craft research-based standards that would give students from Hawaii to Maine predictable, content-rich achievement goals.

As it turns out, Common Core is none of those things. Now several states are struggling to come up with suitable replacements, only to run into threats from the U.S. Department of Education that opting out of Common Core testing will jeopardize their federal funding. So much for “voluntary.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is alone among Republican candidates in his support for the Common Core. “High standards are better than low standards,” he says.

Nobody would seriously disagree. The question is why the federal government should have any role whatsoever in deciding what those standards are and how the states must implement them.

Bush himself argues in a recent Washington Post op-ed that “state and local authorities and, most important, parents” should “make the decisions” when it comes to what happens in the classroom. He points to Florida’s successful A-F school grading system, as well as the Sunshine State’s several school choice programs.

“The federal government’s role in elementary and secondary education should be limited,” Bush writes. “It should work to create transparency so that parents can see how their local schools measure up; it should support policies that have a proven record; and it should make sure states can’t ignore students who need extra help. That’s it.”

Within those generalities danger lies.

Federal officials have always over-promised and under-delivered on education reform. Before No Child Left Behind, many states had poor track records when it came to accountability. Most were spending hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars on public schools and graduating illiterates.

After 14 years of No Child Left Behind, what does the country have to show for it? We’re graduating marginally fewer illiterates and the achievement gap is narrower in some states, but not others. As the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey explained in testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in February, “[A]t best one can say that No Child Left Behind may have had some positive effect on underserved 4th and 8th graders, but no discernible effect by the time students neared the end of elementary and secondary education.”

“That means we have no evidence of any lasting effect — by far the most important outcome — and some evidence of short-term effects for students when in grades four and eight,” McCluskey testified. “And none of this can be conclusively pinned to NCLB because numerous variables affect outcomes.”

Throwing more money at failing schools is no remedy. Federal spending on K-12 education topped $72.8 billion by the time George W. Bush left office. By 2012, federal education spending topped $88 billion. Yet according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, student achievement in reading, math, civics, history and science has made only slight gains or remained roughly the same as it was in the late 1990s, when federal K-12 spending was around $38 billion.

The unpopularity of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core suggests that Americans are finally beginning to understand that a half-century of federal meddling in a properly local issue has done public education little good. The biggest, boldest education reform would be to end the nationalization of schooling once and for all.

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