What to cut? How about the Dept of Education?

With the upcoming discussions by the super committee on cutting, I’ve begun looking at areas in which we can ostensibly cut large chunks of money and not affect the nation in major ways.

This time, I’ll discuss the Dept of Education.  It was signed into law in 1979 by Jimmy Carter, and started the next year.  In the 31 years since it began, test scores do not show any significant movement for math, reading and science have remained flat.  Meanwhile federal education  spending has grown 375% (in inflation adjusted dollars) in the same time period.

What does that tell us? That states were performing the same as we do now, but with billions of dollars less.   It costs about $70 billion to run the Dept of Education, including all the moneys it sends to schools everywhere, No Child Left Behind program, etc.  When you include funds from other federal agencies (not including school lunches or the like), it jumps to well over $100 billion per year.

IOW, if we end most federal subsidies to education, we can easily save between $500 Billion and $1 Trillion over the next decade.  And given the flat test scores since the Dept of Ed was started, it shouldn’t affect children’s education scores.

Besides, there is no Constitutional mandate for the feds to be involved in education.  As FDR stated, it is a state responsibility.




35 thoughts on “What to cut? How about the Dept of Education?

  1. I guess you must not be aware that only extremists favor eliminating federal spending that accomplishes absolutely nothing and drains billions from taxpayers.

  2. Caveat: I’m British and therefore do not understand the exact function of the department of Education.

    Is it possible that the investment from the Dept. has succeeded if in fact the trend would have been increasingly lower test scores through this period? You seem to assume that success is improvement when perhaps it could be the status quo. It is difficult to measure success in these policies simply because we cannot be sure what the counterfactuals are.

  3. the Dept of Education […] was signed into law in 1979 by Jimmy Carter, and started the next year. In the 31 years since it began, test scores do not show any significant movement

    Sure, ED has been an independent cabinet level agency for just the last 30 years, but like the poor, it has pretty much always been with us.

    If your argument was more along the lines of “elevating the agenda of the Office of Education to the cabinet level/creating a separate cabinet level agency focused on education out of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare doesn’t seem to have changed much” I could get on board.

    Your post, however, suggests the department was created out of thin air and imposed on an purely state-run system (“states were performing the same as we do now, but with billions of dollars less”) when, in fact, the role of the federal government in education has a much longer and even storied history (GI Bill, anyone?) that ought to be accounted for in determining whether the Department of Education should be cut.

  4. This is probably the first department to cut, but there are several more that could be eliminated without any negative impact.

  5. I endorse this 150%. The Federal government should have no say in how I educate my children, and there is no Constitutional provision that authorizes it to step into the realm of education. This is a prime example of a usurpation of state and local authority.

  6. I just took my daughter to the meet and greet for kindergarten. Let’s just say that now is not a good time for me to be nice about our educational system. I’m even more bothered by it now than I was before.

  7. Probably unconstitutional, yes. Probably completely ineffective, also yes. But on this last point, the fact that spending has increased lots without an increase in results doesn’t prove much. The quality of the American family and American demography has changed a lot in the last decades. Maybe we have to have a lot more inputs just to hold the line, like Aaron R. says.

  8. I don’t know. We often hear that the states can do things better than the federal government, and maybe this is true in many cases. But in many states around the country, the financial crisis is far more severe than even at the federal level. While some states would benefit from complete independence, maybe others would suffer.

    It’s also a fact that there is usually more corruption on state and local levels, where oversight and media attention is much less than at the federal level. It is a conspiratorial myth that there are higher levels of corruption at the federal government, while state and local governments are more “pure” by virtue of being closer to the people.

    Educational budgets are already suffering financially so much, this would not be a good time to pull the carpet out. Perhaps it should be reformed first, in order to pass it off more to the states. All this is politically impossible in the current environment of course.

  9. Nate,

    those aren’t exogenous variables, necessarily.

    States and localities have less oversight and media attention partly *because* the federal government does so much.

  10. It’s also a fact that there is usually more corruption on state and local levels

    Mostly in areas run by Democratic party machines. Illinois comes to mind. Corruption in conservative regions is a footnote by comparison.

  11. How about the Fed collect money and distribute it to the states for education purposes, without requiring federal mandates, stipulations, and a one size fits all mentality?

    There is tons of waste in the program. Many of the federal programs are “feel good” programs that show that in the long run make no difference to a kid’s education. I wouldn’t have a problem with the feds collecting the money and sending it where it is needed, except it always involves stipulations that have unintended consequences. Always.

  12. I endorse this only 50%.

    I would love to see the end of the ED, even though some of what it does is good.

    Here’s the problem: The ED gets its money from the federal budget, which gets its money from people. Local school districts also get their money from people, but also a huge amount from the ED. So in effect, the ED takes from local schools then gives back to local schools. If you simply cut the ED budget and redistribute that money to other federal expenses (such as paying down debt) then you leave local school districts with huge budget shortfalls—they (meaning, the families in the local district) are still paying into the “federal education fund” but that money is no longer being used for education.

    Thus, you have to ensure some way of making sure that schools aren’t robbed of their revenues from locally-generated taxes—give states some sort of rebate, for example.

  13. No issue with the elimination of the cabinet level agency.

    Need to examine its spending to see where to cut. Certainly the money spent to maintain the department. But local and state districts that presently receive aid (to bridge the shortage in state funding in my district’s case) would be seriously shocked by elimination of that aid. Also — is all ED funding going to K-12? I think not.

  14. <blockquote.Mostly in areas run by Democratic party machines. Illinois comes to mind. Corruption in conservative regions is a footnote by comparison.

    I’d love to see some actual proof of this. Please?

  15. Part of the reason for funds going through a central, national system and being redistributed is the same for tithes and offerings being sent to church headquarters then redistributed – so education spending is equal across the country, no matter how rich/poor the people are in a specific area.

    Education is the silver bullet, allowing people to break out of poverty, reducing crime and racism, and building citizens who can contribute to building the Country at all levels, local through National.

    Certainly the educational system can use some reform, but it can more use personal responsibility by parents in disciplining and teaching their children. It would also help if demonizing all teachers for the problems widely published about a few bad teachers. Its hard enough to get people to want to go into teaching when we automatically assume they are part of the problem.

  16. I don’t know. My elementary school is a Title 1, with a budget of half a million dollars. Which is half the size of last year. 75% of the students are ESL.

    I have a problem with my daughter going to school so she can teach the other kids when the elementary school has enough budget to give the first graders up to fourth one computer to every two kids, and a personal computer from there up.

  17. And that was in response to the comment in #15 about demonizing teachers. I don’t think it’s about demonizing teachers, I think most of us are very sympathetic towards the poor teachers caught between bureaucracy and doing what they love.

  18. Having taught school, I can say the Dept of Edu is totally worthless. The mandates, the rules, the “standards” that they impose like a wet blanket across the board on schools/districts/states are part of the reason education is failing in this country. True education reform will start, when communities take back their schools, parents get on school boards and take part in cirriculum development and we start teaching basic skills again. Back to basics….it never hurt anyone.

  19. I’m also surprized to see that no one metioned “No Child Left Behind” in this comment thread. That’s also a waste of everything!

  20. I was about to mention NCLB, because liberals abhor it. But here’s the thing: it wouldn’t have been possible to pass such a messed-up bill if the ED didn’t exist in the first place. Thus, perhaps NCLB could be used to sway some liberals to join with conservatives in calling for an end to the ED. Maybe.

    PS. rameumptom: I’m really curious to see where the rest of this series goes. Specifically, I’m interested to see if your cuts all “add up.” As I mentioned above, I don’t think ED cuts ultimately account for much because the money it returns to the states should not be siphoned off into other federal expenditures. But still, it might be fun for you to include a little money ticker on each subsequent post so we can see where all your cutting gets us 🙂

  21. Frank Pellet, I don’t think the Dept of Ed is doing much redistribution.

    LDSP — I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any evidence of voluntary redistribution to aid education in my part of the country.

  22. The uber meat cleaver type of approach suggested here is far too simplistic and could lead to catastrophic results. Each DOE program needs to be examined to assess its value and how it can be made more effective. If that part of the Department is not worth it, then and only then cut it.

    Neil Postman made a statement once than in education one needs to have a good “crap” detector. Frankly, both the anti-DOE and the “Stay the Course” types tend to put out a huge amount of stuff that fails Postman’s detector test.

    First, be wary of statistics. A simple example. There was a reading program that used an ITA (initial teaching alphabet) of 44 symbols representing phonemes or sounds, 26 were the regular letters and 14 looked like two letters back to back. Kids would learn the sounds and read material written in ITA. The initial results were amazing as kids read 4-6 grades above where they were expected to be. What the vendors of the program failed to provide was statistics on what happened when you put the kids back in the real world of the “normal” alphabet. There is a reason that we don’t hear too much about the ITA today.

    Second: ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) This is money generally directed to help schools beset by the problem of poverty. The great difficulty in assessing its effect is that each district can spend it in a number of ways (e.g. out of classroom teacher support, remedial classes, reduce class size). Using the word Frankly again. the local community generally does not even know or understand this, much less ask for an evaluation of its effect. There are over 20 separate programs in this Act (ca. 25 billion)

    Third (IDEA) This is Special Education Funding. This is money given to the states to divy out with a lot of State and Fed strings attached. Simply stated, taking the 12 1/2 billion away from Special Education would devastate school district’s programs. It would be up to the state and school districts to decide what they could afford to keep and what to chuck. If you have a special needs student, I am sorry. Unfortunately the political power of parents like you usually is, if you pardon the Yiddish, bupkis.

    Fourth, 20 billion plus goes to Post Secondary Education
    17 billion of that in Pell Grants. Cut it and a lot of poor kids do not go to college.

    Cutting the Department of Education needs to be done wisely, if at all.

    As a pure non sequitir: I am looking for some Utah entrepeneur to develop an ITA translator for a nook or a kindle like device. We could in one fell swoop turn our alphabet into ITA and kids and then teen agers reading scores could go out of site (at leat the decoding part, there are strong arguments that comprehension would also go up). People in the geezer set like me could go merrily along using the old 26 letter beauty.

  23. I’d love to see some actual proof of this. Please?

    Proof is a hard thing to come by. But if the incidence and degree of corruption making the national news is a reasonable metric, it is an open and shut case.

    Lets take Illinois, which is a famously Democratic political machine dominated state – four former governors have gone to jail in the past three decades, three Democrats, and one Republican.

    William Jefferson, Democratic representative from Louisiana, famously caught with $90,000 of bribery cash in his freezer. Thirteen year sentence.

    James Traficant, Democratic rep from Ohio, bribery, racketering, recently released after seven years in prison.

    On the Republican side: Tom Delay, rep from Texas, controversial “money laundering” charge related to his own campaign funds and third party PACs, out on bail pending appeal. Pretty mild stuff, as far as I can tell.

    Duke Cunningham, GOP rep from California (another Democratic machine state), convicted on mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery, etc.

    Where are all the convictions from non Democratic machine states? We have one from Ohio, which is a purple state as of late, and one highly dubious conviction in Texas. In Utah, as far as I know, no congressman or governor has ever been convicted (possibly not even charged) for corruption. I can’t remember a state legislator either.

    Political corruption predominates in Democratically controlled states, and in those states mostly among Democrats. If Republicans ever make the news it is usually for some sex scandal.

    I might venture to add that it is not surprising that Democrats get caught with their hand in the cookie jar, because their entire political model is based on (legally) bribing people to vote for them. Where most Republicans, on the other hand, just want to be left alone, prominent exceptions notwithstanding.

  24. Adam G, you say that MAYBE we need to spend this much to hold the line. What evidence is there for that?

    Let’s see how it works in Washington DC. We spend $28,000 per kid in the schools there, and are getting very poor results.

    We started a program there to give the poorest and most struggling students a $7500 voucher to attend private or other schools. They all quickly rose to at least average for Washington DC, if not among the best students.

    So, we can spend $28,000 and have kids failing poorly and lost in a bad system, or we can spend 1/4 the amount and turn kids around.

    Problems with families? Definitely. But the public school system isn’t for the most part fixing it. We need to find the programs that actually work, such as the KIPP program and implement it more. However, teachers’ unions are fighting anything that takes power away from them (but that is another problem with the system that has been discussed previously).


  25. I mentioned NCLB in my initial post. It is terrible, forcing teachers to cheat, etc. Teachers teach to the test, rather than teach knowledge. History has become almost nonexistent in some areas, because they focus so much on math and reading (or teaching to the test), in order to keep getting the additional funds from it.

    As I mentioned about the DC schools, if we get rid of federal regulations, allow the states and locals to run programs without unions and politicians getting in the way, we can run our schools for fraction of the cost, with better results. Indiana has just passed a voucher program that is being developed right now. It is needed to stop the failure of the Indianapolis schools (55% dropout rate, and schools are failing).

    Montgomery Alabama’s system was saved by charter schools and home schooling. Previously, the politics and unions had each grade taught by two teachers, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. At least one teacher would be from a failed system at a local university. Many of the teachers had to take the certification many times, with coaching to be able to get certified. I ended up teaching my kids after school the things they should have learned in school. Parents finally fought back and got charter schools started, so at least some kids can escape the terrible schools there.

    One federal reading program left California’s students basically illiterate, focusing on memorizing words, rather than a mix with phonics. After 12 years, IF the kid remembered all the words he had to memorize, he only knew a couple thousand. Insufficient to read, to go to college, etc. California’s parents finally forced a phonics program. The inventor of the federal program insisted it would have worked if they’d pumped twice as much money into it.

    Schooling has to be handled like an engineering project. You establish a base line. You experiment on finding better ways of doing things. If you find better ways, you adapt them and start a new base line. If it is worse, you return to your baseline. But education has never had a baseline, but jumped from one idea to the next feel good idea, without stopping the bad ideas and adopting the good ones. The bad ideas fight to stay alive, and compete with workable solutions.

    This is where returning to the states is important. They experiment, find what works, and then other states can adopt the workable solutions. The feds force a one size fits all that just doesn’t fit anyone well.

    So, If we could find a way to reduce expenditures to $7500 per child and get better results, as in DC, then we could save at least 1/2 of the federal moneys for education and use them to pay off the deficit.

  26. Rameumptom,

    I am afraid you fell into one of the statistical potholes I warned about in a previous post. Your 28,000 a year to a 7500 voucher is apples and oragnes. That 28,000 includes the cost of land and buildings, which is probably about 13,000 dollars.

    If someone really wanted to make a comparison there are a lot of other things to consider:

    1. That 14,500 plus is per ADA. ADA means a day that the student is actually there. Absence rates are about 15% for large urban school districts. Thus the figure per student is probably a ouple hundred above 12,000. Vouchers are generally not tied to ADA.

    2. Religious and private schools have a very hard time with Special Education. It is too costly. No matter what, it generally costs double for a special needs kid. In most area it means that Special Ed is left to the public school district in one way or another. This often leads to an 8-12% difference in cost between the two systems.

    3. Remember also tht the vouchure may not pay the full cost of the education. If the cost is more the student can be turned away, parents can be asked to pay more or a schalarship be given

    4. You also need to look at the amount of private support religious and private schools get. That figure skews the value of voutures in cost per pupil.

    5. Do not forget that private and religious schools can kick out or deny admission to whomever they want. This often leads to the better students staying in the private/religious sector and the poorer students going to the public schools.

    The point is that your stats are incomplete and misleading. There may be a case, but your evidence does not make it

  27. Stan, private schools also have to pay for buildings, utilities, etc. So your argument falls flat. Property costs will vary according to location, of course. However to think that we are spending 13,000 per child in all locations for just the building is rather crazy. We need to find more economical methods that do not require such a high cost. Perhaps Internet long distance learning can replace much of this need?

    Yes, some schools do reject certain students. But in a capitalist society, if there are enough people interested, someone will provide a decent school. This is what is happening in Washington DC, btw.

    It may be there will be exceptions, such as special ed. However, I do not see why the federal government must be involved in it.

  28. Rameumptom

    Building refers to paying off land and the construction of facilities. It is separate from the cost of the operation of the school. Utilities are a cost of operation and thus part of the general fund and the cost per ADA. Again apples and oranges.

    Public schools use a combination of bond issues, special taxes and donations to build schools. About 95% of vouchers go to parochial schools who almost always keep operating costs and building cost separate. It is usually donations from the church and a myriad of fund raising devices that provide the funds for construction. If they stuck building on the tuition, the cost would be prohibitive for too many parents.

    This leads to an interesting distinction. Private and Parochial Schools have to raise the money before building and Public Schools just need to pass a bond issue and pay in the future. A lot of interesting debates there.

    You may see a number of schools lying vacant in areas that are losing kids and wonder why they were not being sold for needed cash to run the schools system. The answer is simple. Many schools are resting on donated land with a reversion clause-if it is sold for a purpose other than a school, the ownership rights return to the donor or his/her heirs. If the Feds or the State gave you the money to buy it, then most if not all of the money is theirs. A number of Charter Schools try to use this for a good deal for rentaal or purchase.

    You and I will probably agree on one thing. The cost of Building is often too high. In the union we had several phrases which described our concerns:

    The Ediface Comples: My school is bigger, nicer, prettier, and more expensive than your school. In simple terms, my Taj Mahal is better than your Taj Mahal.

    The Real Estate Wing: In order to get support for a bond issue from real estate types, extra money is spent on making the front of the school look extra nice. Real Estate people like to drive prospective buyers past really nice looking schools leading them to think that there are good schools in the community.

    The Dumb ___ School of Architecture: Some of the things put in new schools defy thought and cost containment. Two of my favorites: unblocked ladders to the roof of every buiding at a new high school and offices for every classroom at a junior high. The latter is dumb because most liability laws require teachers to keep their students in their line of sight plus can you imagine leaving a group of 8th graders unsupervised for a few minutes while you are in your office.

    Full Employment for Architects Clause: The Church saves a lot of money by having several basic architectural designs. You can just imagine our success with this idea for school design in the state legislature.

    Suprisingly, we in the public school system did not mind parochial schools too much, if at all. The state did not have the money to pick up full freight for all parochial students to come back to us. In addition parochial schools provided us with a good source of qualified teachers. Most of them paid terrible salaries, and the teachers jumped to us when they needed to support a family.

    Again, on the matter of statistics indicating superiority of voucher or public school, be careful. Most reputable reporting is mixed. There are three threads that seem to affect some of the numbers. First, high rated schools that do not need to keep students because of financial constraints, can and often do get rid of low performers. Two, What works best for one age group may not for another or one school size and not another. Three, there are outright flim flam voucher operations that cheat the kids and drive scores down.

  29. Stan, you make some good points there. Yes, I do not believe that vouchers are necessarily the one and only way to manage these things. Each possible solution will have pros and cons. The thing is, for many communities, the current system is primarily cons, and we pay large sums of money for it.

    You stated that building costs are $13K in your area. Well, if we did go with that huge amount for building expenses, then added $7500 per kid for vouchers, we would still save thousands per child in the Washington DC area (currently spending $28K per child).

    There are programs that are cost effective and work well. We just have to allow states to work it without federal regulations forcing them into one size fits all expenditures. Why did teachers and principals in Atlanta cheat on kids’ NCLB and SAT tests? Because they couldn’t see any other way to get out of the mess they were in. The regulations, unions, and politics prevented them from innovating or trying some of the programs that are proven to work, like the KIPP program I’ve mentioned before. You can learn more about it and other programs in the documentary, “Waiting for Superman”.

    I wouldn’t mind spending the money we are now spending on kids, and even more, if it were actually making a difference. Test scores, our standing among the advanced nations in math and science, dropout rates in places like Indianapolis of 55%, illiteracy rates that are exploding, and other issues just show me that we are doing things that are not working for the kids in most places.

    Since we do not have the desire to make real changes to the system, then we may as well put the money to better use. If we spend half of the federal education dollars on paying down the debt we would pay down $500 billion in ten years. That would probably be a good step in causing S&P to upgrade us to AAA, energize the stock markets and businesses enough to create many new jobs, and fix the economy.

    With more work, there is less crime. Fewer broken families. Fewer people in prison. It leads to a fix for many families that are now struggling because of unemployment.

  30. Rameumptom,

    I am sure our philosophical differences will not lead to much agreement. But four final points:

    First, I used to teach the “pothole theory of local government” that is where you see newly repaved streets and potholes filled is where the wealthy and politically connected live. in a mining comparison the schools where the well to do and and political elites send their children, get the gold; where the poor get to send their kids, they get the shaft. The simple reality is that the poor and special needs kids are usually getting the raw end of the deal, the DOE money evens the monetary playing field a bit

    Second, it really varies from place to place how much the cost of building is. In some places it is much cheaper to buy land and build than other places (North Dakota vs. Los Angeles). School Districts with stable or declining enrollments do not need new schools, but at most need to upgrade old ones. The figure for DC schools raises a lot of questions. One in particular. For a district with supposedly stable or declining enrollment, why is this figure so high? Were there terrible buildings that had to be replaced? Is building in DC very expensive? Are you building a Central Offic Building to rival the Chrysler Building? Are other types of expenditures thrown in? Did DC hire a lot of accountants that used to work at Enron or Arthur Anderson?

    Third, don’t simply buy in to the idea that Teachers Unions are anti reform or anti change. If you remember Reagan’s “trust, but verify.” that probably explains a lot of why we are reluctant to change in many cases. What we want to see if the reform has a history of success and will have the support to make it work. Let me give two examples:

    Reading Recovery is a costly program involving one teacher and one student for 6 to 12 weeks using a set of specific techniques to improve reading scores for first graders. My district liked it and showed us glowing evaluations by teachers that used it. We knew the source of the idea and were immediately suspicious.

    What we (and the district) had not been given was the results of a long term study. The program worked that year and declined in effetc until the third grade to where those students had reverted to where they were before they took it.

    We asked two questions when we showed the data to the district. Do you have any programs or procedures in mind to maintain this initial gain? If so, Do they have a proven track record or a reason to believe they would work? Since the answer to the first was no, the idea died. We did invite them to bring it back when they could answer yes to the questions.

    A district proposed a truncated rotating seven schedule (each day students will go to 6 of their seven classes with a different seventh one cancelled each day; teachers would still teach 5 classes for six days and teach 6 on one day. There are good and effective uses for this schedule (e.g. add a support class for kids having difficulty in a core subject, reducing class size, adding extra classes kids couldn’t get otherwise). But there are serious pitfalls and weaknesses.

    To agree to you generally need four things: planning time to create new classes; materials for new classes; fair workload provisions and class size protections. The District’s answers to these concerns: No released time for preparation; you must create or buy out of your own pocket materials for your new class or classes; because a number of our proposed classes will be small, many teachers will have to have larger classes; The district’s intention was to hire full time remedial teachers thus increasing academic teachers workload with at least 17% more student contacts; 17% more work to grade and prepare for and a period less of prep time every 7 days. Our answer-come back when you have answers for our concerns and at least a year lead time to prepare for the change.

    Four. One of the big reforms that is suggested is end tenure. People are often onfused, because tenure is a fair dismissal law. It is a list of reasons for ahich a person can be fired. Some of these reasons can be difficult to immediately fathom. In California we have “moral turpitude.” A district had no problem with a teacher who ran her own sado-masochistic service. Another district that tried to fire a teacher for once dating a guy who got caught with marijuana had its efforts go up in smoke.

    You are not going to get teachers to give up “fair” job protection for whim of administrator. In California, that is the law now for the first two years of service. unfortunately, in my last few years of working with the union I saw a number of good teachers let go and a few keep their jobs who shouldn’t ever be near a classroom. My boss, for example, refused to represent such a person because he couldn’t find a legal or moral reason to fight dismissal. The disrict changed ite mind and rehired him

    Michelle Rhee (if you read her stuff Washington DC schools were thriving because of her) has a system based on teacher evauluation that may have some possibility. But her high handed manner and cheating problems will mke many shy away from considering a better thought out more humane version.

  31. Stan, you aren’t the only person who has understanding of school issues. I’ve dealt with some of the worst school systems in the country. And it isn’t just on the child’s part, but also on the part of teachers. We place insurmountable requirements on their laps, and then they often get blamed for failing programs.

    Education needs to be run like an engineering program. Establish a baseline. Experiment to see what works better, and establish new baselines. Return to the baseline when an experiment fails. Instead, the current system is: create a new program, prop it up with more and more money with the hopes that the additional funds will make a difference.

    It is kind of like what the stimulus did. It “saved” about 2 million jobs. However, we ended up spending $278,000 for each of those jobs. As I learned in the Air Force regarding the F4, if you put a big enough of an engine on a brick, you can make it fly. So we do with most school programs. Instead of seeing how well/poorly it works, and adjust it or kill it as needed, we just keep throwing more money at any feel good idea out there. We make bricks fly. It is inefficient, ineffective, and a waste of time and money.

    I understand the needs of Special Ed. It needs to be dealt with separately, and not as part of the overall education program. In the issue of Special Ed, there are real issues that need to be worked. However, it is now being abused, as more and more parents have their kids diagnosed with ADD/ADHD or other issues, and then placed in Special Ed programs. Why? They get funds for home, as well as at school. The kids do not have to do as much to graduate, so parents do not have to do as much to help their kids succeed. So, we again have a system that becomes inefficient and ineffective. And important dollars that should go to the truly needy are being wasted on people scamming the system.

    Personally, I think we need to review our entire education system. It is based upon a 19th century agrarian program. There is no need to give entire summers off. We also have a system that does not focus on the talents of the kids, but on a general list of classes that somehow we believe each kid needs. What if at the high school level, we gave kids the option to go into a college prep program or a life prep program, where they develop real skills towards life? Life prep could include classes in carpentry, welding, etc, allowing a kid to graduate from high school as a journeyman, or at least an apprentice, ready to begin making $30K or more a year. Such would not need 4 years of math or English, but perhaps two years worth.

    The college prep program would focus on the kids’ specific areas of interest.

    Then, I would get rid of expensive classes that do not provide any actual benefit to society. Why do kids need an annual class on health and sex ed, for example? We went for centuries without such classes without any major problems. The classes are not reducing the number of teen pregnancies or STDs. Clearly it is another “feel good” program that does nothing to promote real knowledge and/or change.

    Again, it requires an honest look at how effective and efficient each program is. What are its goals? Are the goals useful to society? What value is there in the class? Does the class actually achieve its goals in an effective and efficient way? If not, is there a better option? Or should it be entirely eliminated?

    These are issues that are not being addressed on the federal level. The feds create a program, and it takes a major effort to kill any bad program down the road.

    Yes, states are not perfect. But I’d rather see some problems and abuse in a few states, than to have all states affected by a poor program imposed from above by the feds. And, as it is, inner city schools are not getting better with federal programs. Obviously pushing more money towards them with the NCLB and other strings attached does not work.

  32. I agree on the ADD issue. Along that line we have an additional problem. We are asked to take in young people who are so severely handicapped or limited that we are basically warehousing them for the day so the parents get some rest. Is that the best for the kids? Is it too costly? In California we used to have a law, the Sedgewick Act, to recompense schools for the super costly kid (my district had two such children who cost over 70,000 a year each to send to a private school 300 miles away). Again the same two questions as before.

    Two final points and I will turn back into the old retired dude and go out and sit on my front porch, waiting to tell my life story to any poor passerby who makes the mistake of stopping by and saying hello,

    First, we need to train our young teachers better. I would propose an apprentice system that takes two years. One for theory and one for practice under a master teacher. New teachers tend to know little about classroom management, how to grade papers quickly and effectively, how to ask questions well and how to be professional.

    Let me give an example. I uought in a tough school. It got to the point where we had to take new teachers out before the first day and teach them the facts of life. We would tell the young men that their manhood would be tested in the first week. If they failed, go the Vice Principals office and ask for a letter of resignation. If they passed, they were in good shape and had little to worry about. We had to teach them how to stop various types of fights (e.g. in a girls fight wait for a second person to stop the fight-its safer for you and you do not accidentally grab the wrong part of one of the combatant’s anatomy).

    The huge problem with throwing new teachers to the wolves is tha they learn how to survive, not necessarily how to be a good teacher.

    Second, society and the family are going to a very warm place in a handbasket. If you saw the degeneration of both and the effect on kids in the last forty years, you could only become very depressed. If you take gang training, the first thing you are shown is a list of theings the family does for you, the second is a list of what the gangs do for kids. They are the same. Its pretty bad when, as a teacher, you have to learn to recognize gang signs, tats, colors, where colors are hung and monikers. It got to the point where I could read the quad in the morning. Looking at the kids I could tell if something went down or is going to go down and who would probably be involved.

    Mormon kids are not exempt. In a previous post I indicated that one thing that stood out in studies was the Mormon student’s possession of goals and objectives. That is visibly declining over time.

    As much as I hate to say it as a teacher, supportive parents are the key to academic success. We in education cannot sit by and just point at the family and blame everything on them. True reform will be those things that reunite the family and the school. That will be a very tough row to hoe.

  33. Good points, Stan. Working in a prison, I also know most of the gang signs, etc. And I understand the importance of family.

    While working on my Master’s in Teaching/History, I had a grade school teacher also in the program. The principal assigned a highly handicapped child to her class. It was part of a program to have lightly handicapped children placed back into normal classrooms. However, this one was not lightly handicapped, but was used for political reasons by the principal to show he was fully supporting the federal program that funded it. The child was constantly throwing tantrums, running around the room, etc. She did not have tenure, and the principal basically made it known to her that she was going to make the program work with this child, or she would lose her job.

    One day the superintendent of schools visited. She made sure to sit with her special child right next to the superintendent during lunch. Just as they all were beginning to eat, he threw his milk carton into the air, splashing everyone, then ran down the hall. She ran after him and tackled him to the ground. The superintendent followed quickly behind. All he needed to do is see the frustration on her face, and he said he would handle the problem. The child was moved to a special ed class, where he should have been in the first place.

    That said, we are spending tons of money which we just do not have. There is no reason to send two kids 300 miles to a special program just to give the parents a break. It would be much cheaper to just hire a babysitter for them for a day or two. Also, technology could be used (computer programs) that could teach and entertain them, for a fraction of the cost. The reality is, we just cannot afford all programs, as neat as they may seem to be. I’ve worked with a variety of handicapped children. With some you can make a real difference in their lives (able to feed themselves, wash, clothe, care for themselves, etc). Others will never do more than take up space in a room, and so create a huge expense. I feel for the parents of such children, but in reality we all have special struggles and needs, and some can be dealt with easier than others. I can spend $1 million and educate dozens of kids in something important, or I can spend the same money on kids that do not even realize what is going on and get nothing in return. Somewhere we have to draw a line in the sand of what we can and cannot do. And I believe that is best decided on the local level, not by the federal government.

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