Anatomy of an Anachronism

, Jocelyn Grecko, Leave a comment

According to Charles Murray, W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, there in not enough conclusive evidence that the federal government plays a positive role in American education.

In a recent article in the Education Reporter, Murray takes a look at the many issues surrounding the Department of Education. He addresses the reality of the situation and questions both the constitutionality of the department as well as the promise it claims to offer.

Murray says that the case for the Department of Education “could rest on one or more of three legs.” In his article, he examines the three legs.

He first says that the Department of Education is not constitutional. “I don’t think the Department of Education is constitutionally legitimate, let alone appropriate,” he said suggesting that he’d like to see it abolished. He explains that the need for the Department of Education came about in the late 1950s when the United States was facing threats and opposition from communist countries. “The first major federal spending on education was triggered by the launch of the first space satellite, Sputnik, in the fall of 1957.” But he adds that just because it may be good to set standards, there is a serious question as to whether they’re still helping the students of the country.

Murray says, “Probably we are today about where we were in math achievement in the 1960s.” He gives the example of Iowa’s test scores before and after the U. S. Department of Education got proactive there: “What the data show is that when the federal government decided to get involved on a large scale in K-12 education in 1965, Iowa’s education had been improving substantially… Then, when the federal government got involved, it got worse.”

He acknowledges that programs like No Child Left Behind were systematically put in place so that the federal government could “reduce the achievement gap separating the poor children and rich children.” But even so, he argues that “while evaluations have improved, the story they tell has not changed.”

Murray then stepped outside the framework of K-12 education and said that there has been a drastic change in the perception of higher education. He notes that tuition has increased, yet the value of this education has decreased. “Tuition at the average private four-year college is more than $27,000 per year,” he says. And although a B.A. has become the minimum requirement for getting a job today, some students opt to take minimal coursework while earning that degree.

“The Department of Education, with decades of student loans and scholarships for university education, has not just been complicit in this evolution of the B.A., it has been an enabler.”

He says that good cases can be made against federal involvement in education. In the last 30 years, the growth of home schooling and the invention of charter schools have provided alternative options for parents and students. “The Department of Education had nothing to do with their development. Both happened because of the initiatives taken by parents who were disgusted with standard public education and took matters into their own hands,” Murray says.

“As far as I can determine, the Department of Education has no track record of positive accomplishments – nothing in the national numbers on educational achievement, nothing in improvement of educational outcomes for the disadvantaged… It just spends a lot of money.”

Jocelyn Grecko is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia. Jocelyn has spent the past four years in the nation’s capital as a Media Studies undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America. She will graduate in May 2012.

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