Department of Education, Please Go Away

This week I will be looking at the Department of Education. Started at the end of the Carter administration to appease the National Education Association, The Department of Education has the third largest budgets of any Department, but with the fewest employees. Fun fact time! Guess how many times the word “education” is used in the constitution? That’s right! Zero. The founders knew all too well that education should be controlled by the state and local communities. That makes the Department of Education unconstitutional. But who really cares about constitutionality at this point right? Let’s look at what it does, what it is supposed to do and if it works.

When Congress created the Department in 1979, it declared these purposes:

  1. to strengthen the Federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual;
  2. to supplement and complement the efforts of States, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States, the private sector, public and private educational institutions, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education;
  3. to encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in Federal education programs;
  4. to promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information;
  5. to improve the coordination of Federal education programs;
  6. to improve the management and efficiency of Federal education activities, especially with respect to the process, procedures, and administrative structures for the dispersal of Federal funds, as well as the reduction of unnecessary and duplicative burdens and constraints, including unnecessary paperwork, on the recipients of Federal funds; and
  7. to increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress and the public. (Section 102, Public Law 96-88)

Maybe a little government to English translation is in order.

  1. To strengthen Federal commitment = To take power away from the states into federal hands
  2. To supplement and complement = To pay for with someone else’s money
  3. To encourage = To force
  4. To promote improvements = To mandate government approved programs
  5. To improve the coordination = To consolidate power
  6. To improve the management and efficiency = oxymoron
  7. To increase the accountability = To be accountable to no one

I imagine that the real goal of the Department of Education is to improve the educational systems and outcomes of students. Cato-tot-cost-scores-Coulson-Sept-2012-smLet’s take a look to see if they are actually doing that. In 1979 the Department of Education’s budget was about $14 billion, in 2014 they spent about $67 billion. Was there a drastic improvement in educational outcomes as a result of this explosion of spending? No. There was literally no improvement at all. When you look at the track record of things like no child left behind and common core, you have to ask why are we still doing this?

Why doesn’t all this money help provide a better education? The answer is simply that when it comes to education, like everything else, one size does not fit all. The people best suited to develop educational strategies are the people who are actually teaching kids. The more local a program is to the kids, the better it will do. The farther away from your kids the decision making gets, the worse they will do. Kids in Providence, RI might have different needs than kids in Honolulu, HI. The very nature of the Federal Government forces it to treat them exactly the same.

If you use the standards they set for themselves, I would not be able to see how anyone could argue that This department has been anything but an abject failure. Of the 7 objectives above, the ones that are not redundant or useless would be worse for education had they been more successful. But as with all government projects, failure only gets more money. Our money, borrowed from our great-grandchildren.

If you want to fix education in this country, the first step should be eliminating the Department of Education. Make it possible for parents to pick which school their kids attend. Have schools compete for the best outcomes. Let principals decide what educational materials and programs to use. May the best school win. Winning, in this case, means that the students have learned something. If something works, other schools can implement the strategy. Along with eliminating the Department of Education, we would need to make all public unions, especially the teachers union, illegal. I cannot think of another organization revolving around children that has children lower on their list of priorities than teachers unions. But public unions are a blog for another time. School choice is not a pipe dream, it is already happening in the form of charter schools. It just needs to happen more.

For the snarky summation of the Department of Education:

What it does: spends gobs of money with no discernable results

What it’s supposed to do: spend gobs of money with no discernable results, so it can claim the need to spend more next year.

Is it working: yes, and for that reason it must go.


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