Mr. Trump: Get rid of the Department of Education!
Many of us hoped President-Elect Donald Trump's first step in dismantling the Department of Education would be the elimination of the secretary cabinet position. However, with Wednesday's announcement naming education activist Betsy DeVos as his pick to head the department, it looks as if the costly government agency is not going anywhere, at least for a while.
For decades, the GOP has firmly stated that it supports local control. Throughout his campaign, President-Elect Trump agreed, stating that "education has to be local." In 2015, when asked if he would "cut departments," Trump said, "I'm not cutting services, but I am cutting spending. But I may cut the Department of Education."
Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan called for the termination of the Department of Education. But instead of disappearing, the Jimmy Carter creation has become a federal leviathan with no signs of abating in growth.
Reagan's secretary of education, Terrell H. Bell, thwarted Reagan's and the Christian right's plan to do away with the cabinet-level bureau. Bell, an educator by profession, was instrumental in publishing a report on the national status of our schools. Bell had the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which he created in 1981, prepare a document in 1983 called "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform."
The commission's major imperatives were much the same as we have in the education reform movement now: the appeal for non-traditional teachers, more federal funding, and heavier emphasis on science and technology studies as opposed to "general track courses."
Although the report duly outlined the problems of lackluster educational outcomes, it had a detrimental effect on allowing the states to determine their own educational policies. Thus, the DoE's job description continued to grow. What once had been an office that simply collected national statistics on schoolchildren's academic performance now is a bureaucratic boondoggle.
"A Nation at Risk" actually called for more government intervention into traditional states' rights, setting in motion a movement in education which could not be stopped. The report favorably cited a 1982 Gallup poll of the "Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools" that held that education is "extremely important" to one's future success, and that public education should be the top priority for additional federal funds.
As a result, in less than 30 years, we went from a fiscally and socially conservative president who campaigned on getting the federal government out of education to a socialist president who allotted $102 billion of stimulus funds for education reforms and who presided over an increase in the DoE's budget from $32 billion in 2009 to $71 billion in 2011. By 2014, the figure had risen to $141 billion.
The fact that there is no provision in the Constitution giving the federal government control over our schools has not stopped Republican and Democratic leaders in D.C. from growing the department to its current size.
At the start of his administration, President George W. Bush pushed through the largest federal encroachment in education in the nation's history with his No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Fifteen years later, the federal government dictates what will be taught, when, and by whom to most of the 15,000 public school districts and 47 million public school children.
Under Obama, the Department of Education inserted its power into the states by tying funding to achievement through Race to the Top competitive grants, granting waivers to No Child Left Behind failures, and offering funding for testing materials to states who adopt Common Core standards.
The federal takeover of education has produced dismal results. Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) combined reading and math scores for the high school class of 2011 were the lowest on record. Of blacks and Hispanics who graduate from high school, many are functionally illiterate. Only 11% of blacks and 15% of Hispanics in the class of 2011 were proficient in math, with 13% of blacks and only 4% of Hispanics proficient in reading.
Taxpayers are sick and tired of funding this kind of failure. But dismantling an organization as entrenched as the Department of Education won't be easy. With so many strings attached between it and the local school systems, separating them will be a challenge even for a maverick like Trump. If confirmed, perhaps DeVos can start cutting the department's reach and power until she no longer has a job.