The Bush education fix will only make it worse
By Tom DeWeese
President Bush has made education his number one priority. His first legislation to reach Capitol Hill is a major education policy proposal. The President has said education was the hallmark of his time as Governor of Texas, where he imposed strict guidelines for annual testing. He says he wants to confront the growing problem of American illiteracy and the low standing of test scores. And the President says "we must focus the spending of federal tax dollars on things that work."
To those ends, the President's education policy proposal addresses four specific principles including:
1) Annual testing to assure the schools are actually teaching the children and achieving specific educational goals.
2) Restore local control by giving local and state school boards the "flexibility to innovate." Says the President, "educational entrepreneurs should not be hindered by excessive red tape and regulation."
3) Stop funding failure. The President proposes several options for helping failing schools to improve.
4) Give parents a choice to find a school that does teach. President Bush has given schools a specific period of time to improve. If they fail, parents would be given the option of going to another, more successful school by way of a voucher plan.
On the surface these proposals may sound to many to be fresh new ideas to take back local control of the schools and run the federal programs out the door, but a closer examination proves otherwise. In fact, President Bush himself unknowingly sums up the problem with his education program with one statement: "Change will not come by disdaining or dismantling the federal role of education."
Thus President Bush's plan ignores the very root of the nation's education problem; the federal government and its programs. The President's proposal accepts the incorrect conclusion that the problem with education is simply an overblown bureaucracy that wastes federal funds and fails to enforce clear standards by rewarding bad schools.
His statement that "no child will be left behind" comes straight from the decade-old motto of the Children's Defense Fund, the group that claims Hillary Clinton as one of its leaders. By being so off-the-mark, there just is no way the Bush proposal can address a single school reform issue.
First, his plan to restore local control is directly tied to the use of Title I federal funding. Title I is one of the main federal programs to directly fund the "at-risk," a catchall devise now driving the invasion of in-home social workers; the establishment of in-school health clinics; the enforcement of pop diagnosis by teachers and administrators that has put millions of children on Ritalin. Title I is the root of the education establishment's attack on families.
Second, by leaving the federal Department of Education intact, President Bush leaves in full force the machinery now driving the education system. State school boards are simply outposts of the federal bureaucrats. They are of the same mindset, driving the same programs in the states that are dictated by the federal office. Local ideas from local teachers and parents have no chance of a hearing in these vast bureaucracies. Failing to address this behemoth simply dooms any attempt to improve education.
President Bush has made much of the testing program in the state of Texas that shows scores up by dramatic numbers. His new Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, owes his appointment, in a great way, to his leadership in the Texas testing program, but a close look at what actually has taken place in Texas is cause for concern.
Under Governor Bush, Texas established a statewide achievement test called TAAS which is administered annually to every public school student from third grade through twelfth. Texas officials tout the fact that, today, Texas reports an 80% passing rate. The test is given the credit for the dramatic increase because, as Bush now proposes, TAAS provides "accountability" and an annual measuring stick to determine how students are progressing.
However, Texas colleges are reporting that Texas-educated students still cannot read, even after getting good grades on the TAAS test. Why? Because so much emphasis is placed on passing the test that teachers have begun to "teach to the test." Even months before test day, teachers pressure students to be ready. They become little more than cheerleaders. Schools fly banners, hold pep rallies and the pressure builds to pass the test. Classroom time is spent practicing for the test rather than just focusing on well-rounded academic curriculum. Rarely do classes branch off into anything that's not on the test.
Why such pressure? Because teacher salaries and job security are tied to the results. Schools have even been found to cheat on the results. Is this what parents have in mind when they call for accountability? This is the heart of the Bush plan. Under it, parent's may see test scores go up, but they will find that their children still can't read.
The Bush plan ignores the existence of the social scientists who have made psychological guinea pigs out of the children. It ignores the role of the Department of Education as a teacher training lab which brags that, in just two weeks, it can completely change the attitudes, values and beliefs of good, academically focused teachers, and turn them into pliable facilitators to help dumb-down the very students they seek to teach. Nothing will change in the classroom under the Bush plan.
President Bush has made it clear that he has no intention of getting rid of the Department of Education. It is not possible to make the changes that Americans are hoping for without taking that step. Bush's plan simply uses warm and fuzzy rhetoric to further institutionalize more of the same. His voucher plan is little more than a Judas Goat to lead private schools into the nightmare of federal programs that attack and feed on any school that accepts federal money. And so the cancer grows.
Obviously the President insists on keeping the education establishment intact. Therefore, Americans who want to rid the nation of this plague have little choice but to insist that their representatives in Congress begin a complete investigation into the Department of Education and its policies, its waste, and the fraud it perpetrates upon the taxpayers, parents and children of this nation.
Perhaps then, as the facts are exposed under the hot lights of a Congressional hearing, the American people will begin to understand that the problem with education isn't low paid teachers and crowded classrooms. It is the result of a cynical, deliberate and successful effort to dumb-down America to promote a radical political agenda.
Tom DeWeese is the publisher of The DeWeese Report and president of the American Policy Center, an activist think tank headquartered in Herdon, VA. The Center maintains an Internet site at www.americanpolicy.org. © Tom DeWeese, 2001
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