Failing Title I...

By William Westmiller
web posted February 1999

It was the most damaging political earthquake in the history of the nation's capitol. Foundations shook, pillars rattled and decades of good intentions came tumbling down around the ears of Washington's most elite and prestigious institutions. The most venerable and lauded Great Society program ever implemented had been judged a failure. Not just a marginal accomplishment, not an inadequate commitment, not even a potential success, but an absolute, complete and utter failure. Nothing. Zip. Even more amazing, the judgment against the Education Department's Title I was rendered by the very bureaucrats who run the program. Astounding.

The keystone of federal education programs was signed by President Johnson as part of the War on Poverty over thirty years ago... over 118 billion dollars ago. Trumpeted as the salvation of disadvantaged students across the nation, the program continues to gobble up over seven billion dollars a year, allocated to nearly half of the nation's public schools. After multiple in-house and independent studies over the past two years, the conclusion was undeniable. Not only had the program failed to improve the academic performance of poor and minority students, it had actually reduced their achievement levels across the board. The University of Michigan expert assigned to review the studies, Maris Vinovskis, observed that "The real losers in this are not just the taxpayers, but the kids... the program has been a failure."

Educrats have their own reasons for failure. Most of the money was squandered on clerical workers and classroom aides who contributed nothing to the education of designated children. Program expectations were unrealistic and expenditures inadequate to deal with the needs of children "at risk". No one expected that the program could possibly drag the selected students down by two or three grade levels over a decade. When a billion dollars a year seemed inadequate, the allocation was increased to two billion. Still insufficient. Expenditures jumped to four billion dollars a year. Not enough. Now, at seven billion dollars a year, it's enough to build a new school at every exit ramp on the information superhighway. Failure.

The loss of 118 billion dollars is a gaping wound to the fortunes, hopes, and power of millions of people across this nation. But, if that is the price of a simple lesson, it could be worth the expense. The lesson we must all learn is that government is incapable of motivating individuals to new heights of achievement. Its first act is to designate, to define the objects of its largess. That simple act, before all else, designates the selected individuals as inadequate, deficient, incapable of self-improvement. As the official review stated it, the program "reinforced low expectations for students." What the review didn't state is that the program itself is motivated to foster and maintain victims that need, even require, its singular and persistent aid and devotion. It is in the nature of bureaucratic survival to fail, to perpetuate as long as possible the problem, the motive for a continuation of the program's existence. Success, in this context, is death. Failure is survival.

Perhaps you wonder why this lesson hasn't been learned in Congress, or why every politician west of the Bering Straits totally ignored the earthquake admissions of failure. Yes, the report was issued a day before the State of the Union Address and in the middle of an impeachment trial. Yes, it was just a follow-up to conclusions suggested two years ago in an earlier review. But that's not the reason why it was ignored. In the kindest possible terms, failure is irrelevant to politics.

Politicians respond to emotional pleas to fix every real and imagined problem. When confronted with such demands, political expedience searches for a vehicle, a group of politically powerful people who can be delegated to deal with the problem and hand them vast sums of money to create the illusion, the appearance of doing something, of doing anything. In the case of education, the delegates are teachers. Or, more accurately, the teacher's unions. Or, more precisely, the elite teacher organizers in the Department of Education.

Education Title I will be renewed by Congress later this year. The appropriation may even be increased. Officials will be shuffled up and down the ladder of delegation. The focus of expenditures will be realigned. The objectives will be revised. The new, improved, expanded program will still fail. The only difference will be that the exercise will be seen by more and more intelligent voters as a charade. Just that tiny change in the perception of government action could be the trembler that presages a truly historic electoral earthquake.

William Westmiller is the California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus, the past candidate for the Republican Nomination for (CA24) Congress and Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party. Previous columns on-line.




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