Reagan's Chance for Education Change Said Lost
Washington--Although President Reagan and his supporters entered the White House with "the most radical education agenda" in recent history, "by any scorecard, they have lost more battles than they have won," concluded two researchers in a report released last week.
"Nearly three years after taking office, any mandate for change, or any opportunity for further change, is gone," said Denis P. Doyle and Terry W. Hartle in an assessment of the Administration's education policies prepared for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based public-policy organization. "In basic outline, the federal role in education looks very much as it did under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter."
In their study, "A President Goes to School: The Reagan Administration's First Three Years with the Department of Education," Mr. Doyle and Mr. Hartle credit the Administration with three main sucessess on the education front.
By bringing down the rate of inflation, they said, the Administration "has helped establish a more stable fiscal climate for education administrators at the state, local, and institutional levels."
They also said the Administration could rightfully claim victory in the creation of the Chapter 2 education block-grants program and the deregulation of the Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged students.
Finally, "the Administration can clearly call the [report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education] a major success," they continued. "[The] report has forced the American public to take a more serious look at the educational system than any other event in recent memory."
But "just as there are some successes, so are there failures," continued Mr. Doyle, director of education policy studies at aei, and Mr. Hartle, a research scientist for the Educational Testing Service.
"Clearly, the federal deficit is one," they said. "Just as reducing inflation has helped education, the huge federal deficit has hurt it. ... Regulatory reform has proved elusive. The promised constitutional amendment to permit school prayer has not materialized. Tuition tax credits suffered an embarassing defeat in the Senate. And perhaps most conspicuous: The Department of Education still stands."
"They lost the big ones," said Mr. Doyle at a breakfast meeting at which he released the report, which was commissioned as part of aei's "public policy week."
"They had no fallback positions on those issues that Congress was not prepared to accommodate them on," he continued. "They never had room to compromise."
For example, Mr. Doyle said, the Administration adopted "a no-win strategy" in its push for the creation of tuition tax credits for parents with children in private schools. The proposal was targeted "to a more af-fluent segment of society," he continued. "The Administration might have fared better had it promoted aid for poor students in the form of vouchers."
Likewise, Mr. Doyle said, although the Administration's plan to abolish the Education Department went nowhere, it could have "restructured the department in important ways" under existing regulations. Such changes, he said, could have given the Administration the opportunity to "attract people of real distinction and talent to the department, something they have not always been able to do."
Finally, Mr. Doyle said the Administration could have taken steps to expand the department's research activities through the National Institute of Education and the National Center for Educational Research. "nie is a star-crossed agency with a bureaucracy able to run a small country," said Mr. Doyle, a former assistant director of the institute. "It's an open question whether it can survive."
"The somewhat dispiriting conclusion one must draw is that while the Reagan Administration had budgetary policies, it never really had an overarching educational policy or even a set of policies," Mr. Doyle and Mr. Hartle concluded. "There were campaign slogans, and stump speeches, there were isolated ideas, but no coherent and consistent education policy. ... In truth, beyond the battle of the budget the Administration cared little about [education]--they cared not enough to do much, up or down."