Keeping the fun in dysfunctional

10.21.13 | Learning on the EDge | 0 Comments

By Al Ramirez

Not wanting to disappoint, members of Congress have introduced several bills aimed at reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The act hasn’t been reauthorized since 2002 but has operated under a series of continuing resolutions, which kept the law intact — kind of — and allows funding to continue flowing to the states. If we need any more evidence that the federal government should get out of the education business, consider that the U.S. Department of Education has granted 39 states secured waivers from the requirements of the latest iteration of ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and 47 states have asked for waivers. Remember the NCLB bill signing with President George W. Bush and the smiling Democrats and Republicans legislators? That bipartisan effort turned out to be the disaster the states are begging to escape from.

There is a role for the federal government in our nation’s education system, but it’s not the one it has now.

Now House Republicans have passed H.R. 5, the Student Success Act and the Senate Democrats are offering S.1094, Strengthening America’s School Act. H.R. 5 is a throwback to President Reagan’s Education Consolidation and Improvement Act (ECIA) of 1981, which greatly simplified the process for applying for federal education funds. ECIA set the stage for the President’s bigger vision of eliminating the Department of Education and its Secretary, which had just been established by Mr. Reagan’s predecessor, Jimmy Carter. ECIA was immediately reversed when Democrats regained control of the Congress.

It seems that every Republican legislator is required to burnish his or her “conservative” credentials by contributing to the end of public education. Meanwhile, Democrat legislators seem compelled to destroy the system from within through the endless “good ideas” they continue to layer on the schools. In both cases, Congress and the executive branch have long passed the threshold of an appropriate role for the national government with regard to America’s education system. The partisan tampering with America’s education system must stop.

It is time for governors to set aside their partisan loyalties and start putting their states first. State legislators, state boards of education, Council of Chief State School Officers, local school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and all stakeholders should send the message to Washington — ENOUGH! There is no brain trust in the Washington beltway with special knowledge about how to support our schools. And, the four-volume, 12-chapter tome known as CFR 34 (Code of Federal Regulations) devoted to education is its own testament to why it does not work.

On average, the states get about 10% of their pre-K through 12 funding from the federal government; so why have schools been federalized to the point where Washington is telling the states which children to test, when to test them, and which schools to close? How did they leverage 100% of the system with 10% of the money? Maybe they are smarter than they seem.

There is a role for the federal government in our nation’s education system, but it’s not the one it has now.


About Al Ramirez

Al RAMIREZ is a professor of leadership, research, and foundations at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. His last Kappan article, coauthored with Dick Carpenter, was “Challenging assumptions about the achievement gap part two: The Matter of Dropouts,” Phi Delta Kappan, May 2009 (Vol. 90, No. 9), 656-659.

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