I had a dream in which I was President and closed down a whole bunch of departments saying the states could do fine without a federal department. One of these was the Department of Education. I realized this morning that I don't know much about the DoE. So I went to their website. Here is there overview statement:
ED was created in 1980 by combining offices from several federal agencies. ED's mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. ED's 4,200 employees and $68.6 billion budget are dedicated to:
• Establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, and distributing as well as monitoring those funds.
• Collecting data on America's schools and disseminating research.
• Focusing national attention on key educational issues.
• Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.
Here are my thoughts.
"Federal financial aid for education" is code for we will give you money with all of these strings attached. I think we would be much better off with all of that money under local control to begin with. Now I can hear the "what about the poorer states" crowd. To them I answer, "Many countries that are poorer than the United States have better educated children." Money spent does not equal educated children.
Collecting data could be done by a private researcher for probably a lot less money than the federal government spends on such things. States probably already do research on their own schools.
I am not sure what this "focusing national attention on key educational issues means". It smells of a propaganda machine to me. I did find this website that lists the key issues in one report from 1997.
The critical issues in education that the report examines are:
the interrelationship between public schools, democracy, and free enterprise.
the position that vouchers threaten the fundamental mission of public education.
the impact of vouchers on schooling.
the impact of choice and school type on student achievement.
which fundamental improvements are needed in public schools.
how national and local indicators suggest reforms are beginning to work.
I will skip the first one and move on to number two--vouchers. Here is the summary according to the website linked above. I added the bold.
Public schools don't serve the public, the report states; they create the public. Private school vouchers, maintains the report, would undermine public school education by:
diverting attention from the drive to improve the public schools. Helping a few students to attend quality private schools would not help the majority of students, who need quality public schools.
adding to the public cost of education. A voucher system would provide public money to pay private school tuition for children already enrolled in private schools, thus adding to the public cost of education.
reducing accountability. Private schools are run outside the oversight of public school authority and have no public accountability to taxpayers.
forcing private and parochial schools to become less private. The influx of public dollars into private and parochial schools under a voucher system would cause greater demand for scrutiny of such schools.
possibly violating state and U.S. Constitutions. Channeling public tax money to pay tuition at private religious schools might violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
The report concludes that "private school vouchers are too small, too costly, and too divisive to have any potential for improving the public school system."
I agree that private and parochial schools might well be under the thumb of the gov. if they start accepting money. But it is clear that the main reason that the DoE doesn't like them is because they like the power of filling little heads as they see fit.
UPDATE: OneMom mentioned Arne Duncan in the comments. He is following this anti-voucher theme. Here is an article in the Wall Street Journal today about his support of dicontinuing vouchers in Washington, DC despite the DoE admitting significant (nearly half a grade to more than a full grade ahead of their peers) academic gains (in a non- press-released statement). Here is a quote from the article:
Mr. Duncan is not only preventing new scholarships from being awarded but also rescinding scholarship offers that were made to children admitted for next year. In effect, he wants to end a successful program before Congress has an opportunity to consider reauthorizing it. This is not what you'd expect from an education reformer, and several Democrats in Congress have written him to protest.
As to the last item, I am pretty sure that the states have anti-discrimination laws in place and could enforce them just fine.
So why do we really need the Department of Education? Would we really be worse off without them?