Every chief executive in the past 20 years has vowed to be, as one of them put it, “the education president.” All have failed for the same reason: as with most aspects of life, top-down government solutions to education just don’t work.
“Between 1960 and 1990, spending on elementary and secondary education jumped from $50 billion to nearly $190 billion in inflation adjusted dollars,” Leslie Carbone writes in Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case For Tax Reform. “During the same period, per student spending more than tripled—from $1,454 to $4,622.”
“Between 1973 and 1993, public school spending increased by 47 percent while per pupil spending increased by 62 percent.” A former executive director of Accuracy in Academia, Carbone has worked as a tax policy analyst for the Family Research Council. This varied background and her natural gifts enable her to connect the dots on the failure of government programs and education to a degree that few who cover either have been able to.
“At the same time, the total number of teachers increased by only 17 percent while non-teaching positions mushroomed by 40 percent,” Carbone writes. “Despite all the spending, student performance on the SATs declined from 1960 to 1990.”
“As the ranks of ill-prepared high school graduates swelled and they entered college, U. S. university dropout rates climbed to among the highest in the industrialized world—37 percent.”
At an AIA author’s night on October 15, 2009, Carbone related the failure of the federal establishment to a fortune cookie she had recently seen. The fortune read, “Avoid compulsively making things worse.”
Lyndon Johnson, and most of his successors, in the last century and this one, would have done well to heed this advice. “Johnson steered at least sixty education laws through Congress,” Carbone writes. “Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on April 11, 1965.”
“It provided for aid to poor children in slums and rural areas, created a five-year program for school libraries to buy textbooks and other instructional materials, established a five-year program of grants to the states to create supplemental education centers and services, provided for educational research and strengthened state departments of education.”
In this fashion, public schools no longer had to answer to parents with children in them but to bureaucrats prepared to give them money on the flimsiest of pretexts. It could be called mission creep, or doing what you ordinarily wouldn’t do and were never cut out for to begin with.
“Operating in crisis mode, with no regard to long-term consequences, perpetuates crisis,” Carbone argues. “Creating policies in response to immediate concerns rather than according to transcendent principle saddles future generations with outdated and inappropriate policies that can do more harm than good.”
Ultimately, those transcendent principles bring us back to a group of chaps who modern day movers and shakers overlook if they don’t actually denigrate them outright—the Founding Fathers. Actually, the founders were remarkably prescient, even eerily so.
Carbone reproduces a quote from James Madison that could be applied verbatim today. See if this reminds you of any TEA parties you may have been to lately or any town hall meetings that you may have seen:
“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it is tomorrow.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.