Education Opinion

Follow-Up: Facts Don’t Support Federal Involvement in Schools

By Matthew Holland — November 19, 2012 3 min read
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Matthew Holland

Whenever there is a call for the federal government to move out of the sphere of education, there is undoubtedly some level of resistance. Often those who are resistant to dismantling the U.S. Department of Education focus on two main areas: funding and discrimination. They tend to say that the federal education oversight is needed to ensure adequate money is directed towards education and to safeguard against institutional discrimination within our educational system. They often say, “Without the Department of Education, our children would suffer.” While their arguments sound good, they are not supported by the facts.

In 2000, the Department of Education (backed by the recently enacted No Child Left Behind legislation) dramatically increased federal spending on education in order to influence assessment, curriculum, and instruction across the United States. According to the department’s budget history documentation, appropriations for the Education Department programs increased by 9 percent from 2000-2001. This increase was a sign of bigger things to come. Since the inception of No Child Left Behind, the Department of Education’s budget has ballooned by nearly 64 percent.

The Education Department’s spending has topped the $100 billion mark twice since 2000—once in 2006 when the federal government spent $100.04 billion on education, and again in 2009 when the federal government earmarked $138 billion for education. Currently, for FY2013, the budget for the Department of Education is just under $70 billion.

The Department of Education and many of its supporters insist that more and more tax dollars must be spent in order to improve our children’s education, especially considering how poorly our education system fares in comparison with those of other countries around the world). This comparison and justification is often made by examining United States students’ results on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

So what has this out of control federal spending produced? Judging by the PISA results, it is clear that increased federal spending on education is not improving our education system. From 2000-2009, according to data compiled by the the National Center for Education Statistics, U. S. students slid from 15th place to 17th place in reading. From 2003-2009, U.S. students slid from 24th place to 31st place in math. From 2006-2009 U.S. students slid from 21st place to 23rd place in science.

We are providing more federal funding for education than ever before. Is this an effective use of our money?

Supporters of the federal role in education also contend that the Education Department is needed to address inequity and discrimination within school districts across the United States. But this argument is not supported by facts, either. Since the inception of NCLB, students and families have been allowed to abandon low-income and underperforming schools at high rates through the federal school-choice provision. This migration has pushed money, resources, and most importantly of all, caring parents, away from schools in need. Federal policy moves them instead towards schools already are already high-performing, adequately funded, and in some cases, charters.

In other words, de facto segregation has been the unintended consequence of the Department of Education’s misguided policy. Ironically, while the Department of Education has created de facto segregation, de jure segregation in districts across the United States is being addressed by the U.S. Department of Justice. Why continue to support an agency which promotes disparity when a legitimate agency already exists to combat it?

As stated in my original post, I would encourage the president to abandon the failed federal oversight of education within the United States. States and local school divisions should make the decisions pertaining to assessment, curriculum, and instruction in education. Citizens of those states and districts would be responsible for the success or failure of their schools.

The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.