E-Newsletter No. 39 ______ March 2017
In last month’s newsletter, we talked about some of the unintended consequences that arise when the federal government attempts to fulfill a role that is not listed in the Constitution. This month’s newsletter deals with the question of what role the federal government should play in regards to Education. Many of us are familiar with the following quote, which is oftentimes attributed to the 12th century rabbi Moses ben Maimon – – Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
We don’t think that anyone would dispute the fact that one of the most important factors that helps to determine a person’s success in life is a good education. Most of us would agree that the primary initial responsibility for an individual’s education resides with his/her parents. But ultimately, the responsibility for daily, ongoing, lifetime education resides solely with the individual. Access to the best schools in the world and/or massive amounts of federal government money will not change the fact that education is a personal responsibility.
So, what is the proper role for the federal government? Interestingly, the issue / topic of education is nowhere to be found in the US Constitution. But having said that, our Editorial Board believes the federal government’s initial foray into the realm of public education in 1867 was probably appropriate. The original Office of Education was a minor bureau within the Department of the Interior, and was created to collect information on schools and teaching that would help the States establish effective school systems. We believe that this approach was properly aligned with the Constitution’s intent to promote the General Welfare (of the country as a whole). Unfortunately (similar to other examples of federal government over-reach) supporters of the progressive agenda deemed that this level of involvement was not adequate and the federal government should help “manage” education, rather than merely serve as a conduit of “best practices” information to the States and to local schools.
Ultimately, President Jimmy Carter, with the backing of the National Education Association, was successful in establishing a cabinet level Department of Education in 1979. What has followed since then is not surprising, but is truly troubling. The first budget for the Department provided for 3,000 federal government employees and an annual budget of $12 billion. In President Obama’s final budget for fiscal 2017, he proposed a Department budget for 5,000 federal employees and a budget of $69 billion. In addition, the 2017 budget also proposed $140 billion of new “mandatory” spending over the upcoming 10-year period, over and above the annual “discretionary” budget.
But the biggest disappointment is that the measurable results of our country’s education system has gone in the opposite direction. Since the 1960s and the LBJ era, our country’s education standing in the world has continued to fall. We have gone from a country that was able to put a man on the moon, to one where our country currently ranks in the middle of the pack (or worse).
So, what went wrong? It’s obviously not due to a lack of money. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is an organization of 34 countries whose purpose is to promote trade and economic growth. In an OECD study, it was noted that the United States spent $11,700 per full-time-equivalent student on elementary/high school education, which was 31 percent higher than the OECD average. At the postsecondary level, the US spent $26,600 per FTE student, which was 79 percent higher than the OECD average.
A similar study by the USC Rossier School of Education compared our country’s education spending and performance versus eleven other countries. Our country is the clear leader in annual spending, but ranks 9th in Science performance and 10th in Math.
A more comprehensive study, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, showed similar dismal results. At the 4th Grade Level, among 26 countries, the US ranked 12th in Math and 3rd in Science. However, at the 8th Grade Level, among 41 countries, the US rankings slipped to 28th in Math and 17th in Science. And continuing the trend, by the end of high school, among 21 countries in the study, the US ranked 19th in Math and 16th in Science.
Next month – What can we do about it?
US Debt Clock – – February 1st – $61,547 per citizen / March 1st – $61,557