While President Barack Obama is determined to federalize local school boards, the Georgia General Assembly wades into the affairs of the U.S. State Department to prohibit the state from doing business with firms that do business with Sudan. OK. Respective corners, please.
My desire to have the federal government more deeply involved in the affairs of the neighborhood school are on par with my desire to have my city and state dabbling in foreign policy.
I want the locals to fix potholes and manage the contract for garbage pickup.
I want the state to manage the budget and to fix traffic congestion.
I want the federal government to maintain a strong national defense and to avoid projecting weakness that invites aggression.
I want them to be both honest and transparent. President Obama, continuing the campaign that never ends, took to an Internet forum Thursday to answer questions that started with this beach ball: “Our educational system … is woefully inadequate. How do you plan to restore education as a right and core cultural value in America?”
“Well, it’s a great question,” he replied. He then proceeded in the vein of a thousand candidates for state and local offices offering yet another blueprint for fixing the neighborhood schools.
The greater question would be: “What in the world is the president of the United States doing, with the world’s economy collapsing around us, pretending to be a governor or local school board member?”
The federal role in k-12 education is virtually nil. It does have a track record in designing and funding layer upon layer of job training programs. They’re serial failures. “To be charitable, there’s not any good evidence that these programs work,” said Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank in Washington. “When social science researchers have done studies comparing controlled populations with people going through these programs, they have not found that those who go through the programs are getting jobs at a better rate or higher levels.” The federal government has no more expertise in fixing schools than states have in fighting wars. It’s sloshing around in the swamp searching for a dollar trail out. Admittedly, George W. Bush opened this door with No Child Left Behind, just as he did with the $700 billion intervention to arrest panic in the financial sector.
It can charitably be said that Bush’s unwise expansion had a redemptive feature. NCLB gave choice to poor children stuck in failed schools, though its implementation was too contained by those who opposed it to warrant the intrusion.
Over the years, the public school establishment has perfected the art of resistance to would-be reformers. It’s masterful in slow-walking, top-down change. “Reforms” of the Obama variety have been attempted repeatedly by smarter people closer to the problem than the president of the United States.
“Let’s pay our teachers more money,” Obama said Thursday. “Let’s give them more support. Let’s give them more training. Let’s make sure that schools of education that are training our teachers are up to date with the best methods to teach our kids. And let’s work with teachers so that we are providing them measures of whether they’re effective or not and let’s hold them accountable …”
A thousand politicians could have uttered those lines — and not one has found the way to translate rhetoric into lasting results. The problems are far more complex — starting with the fact that substantial numbers of children no longer have a married mother and father at home.
The feds have a tiny role in public education that started with the effort to compensate local systems for the impact of federal installations that required them to build more schools. It was expanded then to special populations, poor kids for example. But always it’s been limited, though it’s now up to 8.5 percent of the funding that goes to local schools.
The feds have no expertise. They can’t perform any better with local schools than they have with job training.
The Georgia General Assembly ventured into foreign policy on Sudan, as 27 other states have, because Congress “invited” them to under President Bush. It’s work for bureaucrats and the casual expansion of regulation for political statement.
Georgia should let the president tend to his business — and he should let governors, legislators and local school boards tend to theirs.