OAKLAND, CAWhen President Jimmy Carter established the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in 1979 as the thirteenth cabinet-level agency, the advocates of a larger role for the federal government in education hailed it as a hard-won victory for Americas taxpayers, educators, and school children.
But thirty-six years later, ED has yet to live up to the promises, according to education-policy expert Vicki E. Alger, author of the new book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of Americas Children (Independent Institute, July 2016).
- It has failed to act as a genuine partner to state and local governments, but instead lords over them. Strings attached to federal funding have created an ongoing tug-of-war between the feds and the states.
- It has failed to ensure that federal dollars are spent efficiently. Programs remain spread across multiple departments, perpetuating redundancy and waste of taxpayer dollars.
- It has failed to appreciably improve student academic performance. International assessments reveal that American 17-year-olds as a group are only slightly better in math than they were in 1978, and their reading ability has remained flat since 1971.
- ED has failed to reach every meaningful goal its advocates had promised.
After providing a history and assessment of federal involvement of education (including a comparison with top-performing education systems worldwide), Dr. Alger offers a way forward. Steps include:
- Immediately eliminating 19 non-program offices and divisions within the Department of Education, and returning the $14 billion in savings to taxpayers via a tax credit;
- Letting the American people work with local lawmakers and educators to set priorities that meet the specific needs of students in their communities;
- Empowering citizens to create parental choice programs in the statesincluding tuition tax credits and educational savings accounts;
- Abolishing ED and returning the federal government to its constitutional role in education (none).
Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D., is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and the author of more than forty education policy studies. She has provided expert affidavits for the successful legal defense of educational choice programs for low-income, foster-care, and disabled children. Her work was also used in the successful legal defense of tax-credit scholarship programs in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Independent Institute is a non-profit, research and educational organization that promotes the power of independent thinking to boldly advance peaceful, prosperous, and free societies grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity. For more information visit www.independent.org.
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