Q: Should Congress Close Down the Department of Education

Article excerpt

A recent headline in my hometown newspaper emphasized the need for immediate reform in American education: "34 percent of local pupils pass test; 65 percent areawide." The poor scores on Ohio's proficiency test for fourth-graders are typical of results across the United States. Fears of many parents and communities are well justified, and if dramatic change doesn't come soon the future of our children will be jeopardized.

No issue is more important to me than education. As a former teacher at an inner-city school in Cincinnati, I have had the privilege of working with many caring, capable parents and educators. I am sure that parents and teachers across the country are as committed to their local schools as were the people with whom I worked. But local schools are hindered by an intrusive federal Department of Education that devours scarce resources. Instead of concentrating on better teaching, schools are devoting more hours to filling out forms demanded by Washington bureaucrats. An Ohio public school, for example, is required to file up to 170 federal reports totaling some 700 pages during the course of just one year.

As David Broder observed in a recent Washington Post column, "The Department of Education is a newcomer to government. It was carved out of the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare by President Jimmy Carter, largely as a political payoff for his campaign support from the National Education Association (NEA)." Although the agency was charged with improving the quality of American education, there is little evidence that the average child learns more or that the typical school is more productive as a result of the increased federal role in education. In fact, recent test scores reflect declining levels of achievement. Even the NEA -- the department's chief proponent -- admits that the agency's ability to improve public education has not been as immediate or complete as many had hoped. Part of the solution is t restore power to parents, teachers and local communities while ending the federal education bureaucracy.

Evidence of the current educational crisis in America abounds. In international comparisons, the achievement of U. S. students ranges from the middle of the rankings in reading to the bottom in science, math and geography. In one worldwide study, American 9-year-olds finished second to last in math, just ahead of their Slovenian counterparts. American 13-year-olds received failing grades as well, ranking 12th in science (beating only Irish and Jordanian teens) and 13th in math (ahead of only the Jordanians). American students rank highest only in their conviction that they have mastered their subjects.

They don't fare much better against American students of the past. Average verbal and math scores on the scholastic Achievement Test, or SAT, have declined or remained stagnant since the creation of the Education Department. In fact, SAT administrators have decided to jigger the numbers by ordering an adjustment in scoring. Paltry average scores for 1993 of 424 on the verbal section and 478 in math will be increased to roughly the 500 level. But inflating test scores won't lead to smarter students or better-skilled workers.

In 1978, two years before the Education Department became operational, only 8 percent of eighth-graders failed to complete high school. In 1992 the rate reached 12 percent. Literacy rates among young adults continue to decline. Meanwhile, the department's budget has bloated from S 14 billion to $33 billion during the last 15 years.

Regardless of what bureaucrats want the public to believe, federal bureaucracy has not improved the quality of education in America. Instead, the Department of Education represents what is wrong with Washington. During the last five years alone, the department has grown from 4,596 employees and 155 programs to 5,000 employees and 240 programs. The education bureaucracy has used its power to stifle local creativity, increase regulation and impede local reform. …