Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Spellings Report: Deep From The Heart Of Texas

We like to keep an eye on the doings of educrat-in-chief Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Earlier this week, the secretary spoke at the 32nd annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council down in Grapevine, Texas. The speech consisted of the usual cheerleading for the No Child Left Behind Act, but there were two points in her oration that got my attention. The first involved the almost-forgotten concept of federalism: (emphasis added)
I told George Will a few months ago that we at the Department of Education are good federalists. And I meant it. We all know that when our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they clearly reserved certain powers for the states - not the federal government. One of those responsibilities was education.
Good Federalists?!? The folks in Washington may be many things, but they aren't good federalists. Ronald Reagan was a "good federalist." I can remember when President Reagan, echoing the desires of a good many mainstream conservatives, wanted to disband the Department of Education specifically because he believed that the Constitution reserved to the states the prerogative of setting education policy.

And then there was
this little tidbit from the 1996 Republican Party platform that party nominee Bob Dole campaigned on:
Our formula is as simple as it is sweeping: the federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the work place. That is why we will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning. We therefore call for prompt repeal of the Goals 2000 program and the School-To-Work Act of 1994, which put new federal controls, as well as unfunded mandates, on the States. We further urge that federal attempts to impose outcome- or performance-based education on local schools be ended.

But then again, according to Secretary Spelling's speech, the No Child Left Behind Act is not a mandate:

"We're also supporting teachers and schools so that they can do even better next year - and every year after that. No Child Left Behind is not a mandate, it's a partnership. It's an agreement that says, if you take federal taxpayer dollars for education, you must accept responsibility for increasing student achievement. Studies prove the law is adequately funded:

  • In May 2004, the Government Accountability Office found that No Child Left Behind is not a mandate, and that the law did not violate the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. Instead, as this study said, "The requirements of the law were a condition of the federal assistance."
  • A May 2003 GAO study concluded that Congress is providing more than enough money for states to design and implement the statewide achievement tests.
Heh. "No Child Left Behind Act is not a mandate." What chutzpah!

Gosh... it might not be a good idea to be standing nearby whenever the Secretary utters that particular statement. Lightening bolts have been known to sometimes miss and hit innocent bystanders.

I don't doubt that quite a bit of federal money is being spent in the name of education. It's what those funds are being spent on that is of concern. For example, the secretary (and we presume her entourage) recently stayed at a five-star resort on the shores of the Dead Sea and found time for a little socializing with Jordan's Queen Rania Al-Abdullah. At least the Secretary didn't forget to visit a kindergarten that had been constructed with U.S. aid.

And to think that I fondly remember when the Republicans were the party of smaller government.

We are not against the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. Quite to the contrary. But if the Act is to have any real chance of making a positive difference for all kids, then Washington needs to give us classroom teachers the disciplinary tools that we need in order to reach the goals that our political masters have set for us. Educators can't do all the heavy lifting. Parents and students must also do their part.

One never hears the Secretary, her boss, or any of their minions, address that sensitive issue.

We need to restore discipline in our schools, make sure that taxpayer's money isn't wasted and reaches the schools, and do something to reduce the layers-upon-layers of redundant (and competing) educracies that soak-up a huge amount of those funds that are allocated to education.

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