While this short clip obviously does not convey context, this teen’s tirade nonetheless symbolizes the combinations of frustration, apathy, and incompetence variously associated with the numerous stakeholders in the American education system.
While significant in the bigger picture, the numerous ethical and constitutional considerations related to the State’s role in societal education are not the chief topics of concern in this post. For this narrow focus, it will simply be sufficient to illustrate that traditional arguments favoring increased roles for and presence of the federal government in education administration do not hold water from the perspective of results-based analysis.
Throwing money, regulation, and one-size-fits-all solutions at the general education issue is clearly not a practicable solution at all. As with any industry, state-sponsored monopolies foster waste and abuse, which when coupled specifically with union bedfellows virtually guarantees retention and promotion of substandard and otherwise unproductive participants, correspondingly higher costs, and diminished consumer value. The special interest nature of the leviathan state’s involvement precludes elimination of this waste and unproductivity on political grounds because, in the end, efficiency and productivity (i.e., private capital maximization and consequent profit) are not the decision makers’ objective – at least not in relation to the purported stakeholders.
The State’s “customers” in this sense are thus not the students, parents, taxpayers, or even society at large, but rather the various special interests involved who “pay” for their services with electoral clout, lobbying, campaign activism, and advocacy. In point of fact, the United States Department of Education (DoE), created in 1979, owes its very existence to political quid pro quo between then-President Jimmy Carter and the National Education Association, incidentally the largest labor union in the nation. To that end, it is necessary to understand whom the special interests truly represent in order to genuinely interpret the measurable results.
For example, when asked why he fought a voucher program that allowed certain youths to leave failing government schools, then-Washington, D.C. teachers’ union president George Parker replied “as kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we’ll have teachers to represent” (emphasis added). Another former union president, Albert Shanker, mercilessly put it more bluntly: “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”
But perhaps the programs and policies work entirely independent of these conflicting interests.
This is certainly not true from a cost-mitigation perspective. As with its involvement in nearly any context, the State actually exacerbates this factor. Federal aid functions in similarly inflationary fashion with relation to tuition as federal credit “aid” (e.g., the Federal Reserve’s so-called “quantitative easing” policies) leads to general price inflation. “Studies have found that private colleges raise their prices a dollar for every extra buck students get in Pell Grants, and schools often reduce their own aid when government assistance rises.” The DoE, ostensibly created to help streamline necessary expenditures associated with primary and higher education, saw its budget balloon by over 320% in just its first 23 years of existence.
But what about the relative bang for the buck, so to speak? Do confiscatory policies that shift money from taxpayers to the education-industrial complex foster tangible and sustainable results? Hardly. It should be intuitive enough that, while not universal, human nature is such that people tend to value a given good or service far less if it is “free” as compared to something that has been earned through their own blood, sweat, and tears. Perhaps this is just one reason why “only about 58 percent of first-time, full-time students finish a four-year degree within six years” and the National Assessment of Adult Literacy suggests that college degrees are being systemically diluted: “In 1992 about 40 percent of adults whose highest degree was a bachelor’s were proficient in reading prose. In 2003… only 31 percent were. Among people with advanced degrees, prose proficiency dropped from 51 percent to 41 percent.”
And such outcomes are not just prevalent at the college level. As we have recently learned from the George Zimmerman trial, currently ongoing in Florida, one of the prosecution’s called witnesses is a 19-year-old high school student that cannot read cursive. One of the more abysmally expensive failures of the DoE is represented by the so-called Head Start program: “The most recent federal evaluation found that Head Start produces almost no lasting cognitive benefits, and its few lasting social-emotional effects include negative ones” (emphasis added).
Consider the following compiled trend analysis graphic that compares DoE appropriations with overall affected student performance since the department’s inception.
(Source: The Cato Handbook for the 108th Congress)
As one should be able to discern easily enough, there is simply no supportable correlation between increased State “investment” in education – particularly at the federal level – and actual performance results.
Those in political spheres who insist that ever-growing education expenditures are either necessary or ultimately pay off are working to rationalize special interest gains or are tragically ignorant to the Sisyphean nature of the State’s bureaucratic involvement in such problems. The State’s effective monopoly on education at virtually all levels certainly provides some realizable benefits to some people and interests, but the claim that it facilitates better, cheaper results for the individual students and bill payers is just plain nonsense.