Its the end of the world as we know itat least thats what some people would have us believe about President Trumps education budget.
Its a devastating blow to the countrys public education system, according to National School Boards Assn. CEO Thomas Gentzel. More like a wrecking ball, says Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Assn. teachers union. No, its a veritable assault on the American Dream, insists John B. King Jr., former Obama administration secretary of education.
Such hyperbole is reminiscent of the early 1980s, when President Reagans opponents battled his administrations education cuts, and its about as inaccurate today as it was back then.
Trump wants to reduce the U.S. Department of Educations discretionary budget by $9.2 billion, from $68.3 billion to $59.1 billion. Close to two-thirds of that reduction (63%) comes from eliminating programs that are duplicative or just dont work.
The administration is proposing a 10% cut in TRIO programs and a cut of almost a third in GEAR UP programs. GEAR UP and TRIO (which despite the name consists of nine programs) are supposed to help at-risk students who hope to go to college, but who might not make it.
At the behest of the Education Department, the Mathematica Policy Research Group studied a TRIO program and found weaknesses, which it first reported in 2004. The final report found no detectable effects on college-related outcomes, including enrollment and completion of bachelors or associates degrees. In a striking acknowledgement that these programs dont hold up under scrutiny, lobbyists for the programs got Congress to ban the Education Department from setting up control-group evaluations of TRIO and GEAR UP.
Another sign of dysfunction is thatdespite a demonstrable lack of successgrants to run TRIO and GEAR UP programs almost always get renewed. For example, in California, 82% of those who had grants in 2006 to manage this no detectable effects TRIO program still had those grants a decade later.
The K-12 programs proposed for elimination in the Trump budget are similarly ineffective.
In 1994, the Clinton administration started the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which promised to provide disadvantaged children with after-school enrichment to improve their academic performance. Nearly $18 billion spent over two decades later, theres scant evidence of success. Its a $1.2 billion after-school program that doesnt work, according to Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution. He should know.
Dynarski worked at the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration and directed the 21st Century Community Learning Centers national evaluation while he was a researcher at Mathematica Policy Research. The three evaluations published between 2003 and 2005 concluded that the achievement of participating students was virtually the same, but their behavior was worse, compared with their peers who werent in the program.
Another program deservedly put on the chopping block is the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. Enacted in 2001 as part of President George W. Bushs No Child Left Behind Act, this program gave poorly performing schools fistfuls of cash to turn themselves around and raise student achievement. Turned out the SIG program was more buck than banglots more.
Total SIG program funding under the Bush administration was less than $126 million. Regular annual appropriations skyrocketed during Obamas presidency, starting at $526 million. They remained near or north of a half billion dollars throughout his administration, totaling more than $7 billion to dateincluding a one-time infusion of $3 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.
The Obama administration publicly revealed the SIG programs colossal failure on Jan. 18, 2017, just hours before President Obamas appointees departed. According to the final evaluation by the American Institutes for Research and Mathematica Policy Research for the Education Department, SIG had no significant impacts on math achievement, reading achievement, high school graduation, or college enrollment across school and student subgroups.
Commenting on the evaluation, Andrew R. Smarick, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of education, called SIG the greatest failure in the history of the U.S. Department of Education. Seven billion dollars in taxpayer money was spent, and the results were the same, as Smarick put it, as if this program had never existed.
Cutting costly, ineffective government programs isnt the end of the world. Its part of [our] moral duty... to make our government leaner and more accountable, as Trump stated during a budget meeting in February. His budgetary effort to cut waste includes the Education Department for good reason.
Williamson M. Evers is a Research Fellow (on leave for public service) at the Independent Institute and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
|Vicki E. Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Womens Forum.|
Education policy has long been mired in controversies, often with opposing sides missing the mark. Failure helps us step back from the skirmish du jour and redirects our focus to the big picture, showing us whats gone wrong over the decades and the institutional causes of these failures. It also offers a bold blueprint for returning the federal government to its constitutional role and for cultivating an educational system that meets the needs of students and parents, rather than bureaucrats.