The Department of Education has failed in its mission to educate children

The Independent Institute’s Vicki Alger educates Americans about the fact that the Department of Education burns money without actually educating anyone.

Department of Education Failure Vicki AlgerAlthough the San Francisco Bay Area isn’t know for its conservatives, it’s home to two phenomenal conservative think tanks: The Pacific Research Institute (PRI) in San Francisco and The Independent Institute in Oakland. It’s the latter the concerns me in this post and that really deserves to be celebrated today.

The first reason the Independent Institute concerns me today is because it’s celebrating its 30th Anniversary tomorrow night with a splendid Gala for the Future of Liberty. It’s going to be a fun and intellectually stimulating event. The honorees are Yeonmi Park, who escaped from North Korea; Vernon Smith, an economist and Nobel Prize winner; and Tim Draper, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. P.J. O’Rourke will emcee the event. I’m lucky enough to be attending. Yay! I love a birthday party that’s more about great ideas, which expand my mind, than about cake, which merely expands my waistline.

The second reason to celebrate the Independent Institute is because the thinkers in this think tank have realized that there’s an up-and-coming generation of young people who are ready to break free of the stifling Leftist orthodoxies with which they’ve been raised. While older Millennials may be too deep into Progressivism and the Social Justice Warrior ethos to reach, the younger end of the Millennial generation and the post-Millennial generation are trending conservative. This means that they might be open to new ideas.

With that in mind, the Independent Institute put together a clever, entertaining, and thought-provoking set of videos in which a Big Gov guy cheerfully, and in the name of love, stalks, obsessively controls, and completely stifles a bright young woman. The series is appropriately called “Love Gov.” You can find all the videos here, but this one is my favorite — and it’s especially relevant now that the Democrats are lining up behind fully socialized medicine:

The third reason to celebrate the Independent Institute is that I haven’t forgotten how, three years ago now (or was it four?), Mary Theroux, an Independent Institute Board Member and Senior VP, gave a talk about the fact that the US government was spying on everything we said and storing it away in warehouses for later mining should it decide to focus its gimlet eye on us for some reason. Because I deeply respect Mary’s knowledge and intelligence, I knew she was telling the truth. And yet a small part of my brain kept saying, “That can’t really be happening, can it? That’s just to banana-republic-ish and Orwellian.”

Well, time has shown that this small part of my brain was an idiot. It is really happening — the government is listening and the Obama administration did weaponize the data it collected for political purposes both before and after last year’s election. That’s how it came about that Samantha Powers, a UN Ambassador who would never have any need to unmask the names of American citizens talking with foreigners, was unmasking American names at a rate sometimes exceeding one request per day.

The fourth reason to celebrate the Independent Institute is because it arranged for one of its fellows, Vicki E. Alger, to come talk to a luncheon group with which I’m involved. Vicki’s specialty is education — more specifically, federal involvement in American K-12 education — and that is a very hot topic now. After all, when a fifth grade teacher in Tallahassee sends a note home with students explaining that the teacher is to be addressed as “Mx Bressack [sic]” and that, in an appalling attack on grammar, Bressack further demands that the children call Bressack by the plural pronouns “they, them, and their,” you know American education is veering wildly off course.

Vicki, a charming and personable speaker, opened with a quotation from an Illinois politician, extolling the virtue of federal control over education to prevent states from going their individual ways and falling into bad ideas. We all assumed, of course, that the speaker was Barack Obama. In fact, though, it was a politician speaking in the 1860s, when the proto-Progressives started eyeing federal control over education as a way to impose standardized “expertise” on all American children. (I put the word “expertise” in quotations, because I think the past one hundred years of Progressive politics have proved resoundingly that none of these Progressives experts were nearly as smart as they think they were. The same holds true, of course, for current Progressive experts.) Sadly, I didn’t write down the quotation or the speaker’s name, so you’ll just have to take my word that it was good for a laugh, followed by some deep thought.

Over the next thirty minutes, Vicki explained how the current federal involvement in education began in 1979, when Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education. In the ensuing years, the federal government has imposed so many paper work requirements on schools that it costs school districts millions of dollars to comply. In exchange for this paperwork, and the enormous money the DOE draws from taxpayers, students get . . . pretty much nothing.

Vicki has written a substantial book detailing the DOE’s many failings. It’s appropriately titled Failure: The Federal Miseducation of America’s Children. The following are some highlights, which I’ve drawn from an Independent Institute flier about the book:

The US Department of Education has failed to reach nearly every meaningful goal its advocates had promised in 1979 when the agency was created. It has failed to improve academic performance. It has failed to provide better management of federal education programs. And it has failed to allow state and local governments to chart their own course. The department has, however, lived up to one promise: it has secured education’s status as a “national activity.” Consequently, education policy has become more contentious and politicized.

Despite huge increases in federal involvement in education, student performance in the United States has remained stuck at average levels since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Results from the long-term National Assessment of Educational Progress — aka, the Nation’s Report Card-show no meaningful improvements since before the US Department of Education was created. A 2013 study of federal No Child Left Behind mandates found that just one-third of all students were proficient or better in math (35%), while around one in five low-income and minority students scored proficient or above (21%). States tried to meet the federal mandates by lowering their proficiency standards and passing scores-just as they had done in the late 1980s in response to mandates for obtaining federal funding.

Bitter disputes between the federal government and the states are unavoidable so long as the feds are involved in education. Those who opposed the creation of a US Department of Education turned out to be prophetic. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core demonstrate that even when the agency gives the states “flexibility” to implement federal programs, compete for federal dollars, or meet national standards, the cost for them to pursue independent educational objectives can be prohibitive.

A key remedy for improving school performance is one that many in the educational establishment staunchly oppose: school competition and parental choice. International comparisons reveal that schools that compete for students outperform schools that do not. Close to three-fourths (72%) of the nations that performed as well as or better than the United States on international assessments have higher proportions of schools competing for students. Parents in nine-tenths of those countries have more freedom to choose their children’s schools-both public and private-than American parents.

The US government has no constitutional authority to involve itself in education — a view shared even by early advocates of federal involvement. Even the most ardent early supporters of isolated federal involvement in education, including Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, insisted that absent a constitutional amendment, neither they nor Congress had any authority over education whatsoever. Proponents of federal involvement won the battle only after their stance changed from “It would be constitutional” to “It would be expedient.”

I have Vicki’s book sitting on my nightstand. Reading it will be my reward for my continued efforts to slog through Hillary’s nightmarish “What Happened.” Incidentally, if you ignore the usual Trump-bashing that is required from all Progressives, you will have thrills of delight racing up and down your spine when you read this review from the Huffington Post. It is vicious and completely accurate. Also, read Kyle Smith’s review, which perfectly articulates the thoughts I’ve been having as I’ve read it.