Tag: Arne Duncan

Race to the Top = Klondike Bar

Remember the ads in which actors…er, people…would enthusiastically do demeaning things for Klondike Bars? You know, ads like this one, in which Shakespeare stoops to writing a TV sitcom in exchange for one of those chocolate-encrusted ice cream blocks?

The message, of course, was that the Bard and all the other Klondike-cravers took the  deals for the dessert, not, obviously, for the love of what they were being bribed to do.  They just wanted the reward – even the biggest idiot understood that.

Sadly, it seems that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan might be hoping that the public is  dumber than the biggest idiot. In a recent interview, he talked as if there might actually be  states suddenly making education changes needed to get part of his $5-billion “Race to the Top” fund not because they want the money, but because the reforms are the right thing to do.

“It’s really not about the money - it’s about pushing a strong reform agenda that’s going to improve student achievement,” he said. “We’re going to invest in those states that aren’t just talking the talk but that are walking the walk….If folks are doing this to chase money, it’s for the wrong reasons.”

Only in politics would you bribe people to act, then declare that they’d better not be acting just to get the bribe. But you wouldn’t want the public realizing that politicians and bureaucrats are just as selfish as corporate titans or swindlers, would you?

The problem Duncan is trying to deal with, of course, is convincing the public that reforms coerced with Race-to-the-Top dollars will stay in place after the one-shot-deal bucks are gone. But as even the biggest couch potato knows, Shakespeare simply won’t write for Gary Coleman if there’s no ice cream at the end.

Chart of the Day — Federal Ed Spending

The debate over No Child Left Behind re-authorization is upon us.

Except it isn’t.

In his recent speech kicking off the discussion, education secretary Arne Duncan asked not whether the central federal education law should be reauthorized, he merely asked how.

Let’s step back a bit, and examine why we should end federal intervention in (and spending on) our nation’s schools… in one thousand words or less:

Fed Spend Ach Pct Chg (Cato -- Andrew Coulson)

While the flat trend lines for overall achievement at the end of high school mask slight upticks for minority students (black students’ scores, for instance, rose by 3-5 percent of the 500 point NAEP score scale), even those modest gains aren’t attributable to federal spending. Almost that entire gain happened between 1980 and 1988, when federal spending per pupil declined.

And, in the twenty years since, the scores of African American students have drifted downard while federal spending has risen stratospherically.

Duncan’s NCLB Reauthorization Push Shows Extreme Tunnel Vision

In a major speech to be delivered today, education secretary Arne Duncan will call for an end to “ ‘tired arguments’ about education reform” and ask for input in crafting a ”sweeping reauthorization” of the federal No Child Left Behind act. His decision not to openly debate the merits of reauthorization – to simply assume it – guarantees the tiredness and futility of the discussion.

Americans have spent $1.85 trillion on federal education programs since 1965, and yet student achievement at the end of high school has stagnated while spending per pupil has more than doubled – after adjusting for inflation. The U.S. high school graduation rate and adult literacy rates have been declining for decades. The gap in achievement between children of high school dropouts and those of college graduates hasn’t budged by more than a percent or two despite countless federal programs aimed at closing it.

The secretary himself acknowledges that after more than half a century of direct and increasing federal involvement in schools, “we are still waiting for the day when every child in America has a high quality education that prepares him or her for the future.

In light of the abject and expensive failure of federal intrusion in America’s classrooms, it is irresponsible for the Secretary of Education to assume without debate that this intrusion should continue.  Cutting all federal k-12 education programs would result in a permanent $70 billion annual tax cut. Given the stimulative benefits of such a tax cut it is also fiscally irresponsible for the Obama administration to ignore the option of ending Congress’ fruitless meddling in American schools.

NYT Nonsense on SAFRA

With the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) likely to be voted on by the full House or Representatives today, the media is finally giving some space to debate over the bill. Unfortunately, the New York Times only pays attention to the parts it likes, writing in an editorial today that:

The private lenders and those who do their bidding in Congress have recently taken issue with a Congressional Budget Office analysis that showed that the bill would save about $87 billion over the next 10 years.

They argue, absurdly, for example, that the savings would be smaller if the system were analyzed under accounting rules other than the ones that the federal government is required to use. The aim is to mislead taxpayers and members of Congress into believing that the C.B.O. estimate is dishonest.

Um, excuse me New York Times, but the CBO has never said the bill – not just going from subsidized to direct lending, but the whole bill – would save $87 billion over ten years. Moreover, it has been a series of analyses from the CBO – albeit driven by requests from members of Congress – that have continually increased the cost estimates for SAFRA. (I have linked to all the CBO analyses here.) CBO’s very first estimate of the bill’s likely net cost put it at around $6 billion over ten years, and it only went up from there after incorporating such things as lending risk and potentially higher Pell grant costs.

Of course, the Times isn’t alone in its refusal to talk honestly about SAFRA. Despite all of the CBO estimates, yesterday U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said SAFRA would give college students and numerous other interests the world without costing taxpayers a dime.  “We’re not asking the taxpayers for one single dollar,” he said. And SAFRA’s sponsor, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), has been touting his bill as a revolutionary money saver since day one.

The truth on this thing is out there, but it’s definitely not in the New York Times.

Thanks for The Wakeup Call, Mr. President

It’s one thing for a president to encourage kids to work hard and stay in school – that’s a reasonable use of the bully pulpit. It’s another thing entirely, however, to have the U.S. Department of Education send detailed instructions to schools nationwide on how to glorify the president and presidency, and prod schools to drive social change. Yet as Andrew Coulson has already begun to discuss, the latter is what President Obama, audaciously, has done.

This is, of course, a very troubling turn of events, giving rise to very legitimate fears of political and social indoctrination even if it turns out that those aren’t at all the President’s motives. Perhaps, though, this is also a blessing in disguise. As many liberals and conservatives push for national academic standards and other centralizing education reforms, this situation brilliantly illustrates why government schooling is totally antithetical to a free society, and why the more centralized the power, the greater the danger.

Some background: In anticipation of the president’s planned September 8 address to students nationwide, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter and detailed “classroom activities” with all sorts of alarming buzzwords and guidance to schools across the country. In his letter, Duncan asserts that the work of educators is “critical to…our social progress.” It’s a statement that suggests – as many educators have held and continue to hold – that it is the job of public schools to impose values, often collectivist, on students. Fear that this might be the case is reinforced by suggested classroom activities in the department’s guidance for pre-K-6 students that encourage children to make posters setting out “community and country” goals. Perhaps even more frightening is the lesson being pushed that it is important to listen to “the President and other elected officials.” Possibly most distressing of all, though, is guidance that appears explicitly designed to glorify both the presidency and President Obama himself, encouraging schools to prepare for the speech “by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama.” Finally, schools are told to ask students how president Obama will “inspire” them in his speech before he gives it, and how they were inspired after Obama has spoken.

This is very disturbing, making crystal clear the huge dangers that attend government-controlled education. Ultimately, politicians will use power over education for their own ends, something fully at odds with a free society. And this is just the most stark manifestation of the inherent incompatibility of freedom and government education. As I have emphasized constantly since publication of my paper Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict, every day free people are pitted against one another, forced to defend their freedom and basic values because they all have to support a single system of government schools. Evolution vs. creationism. Prayer in – or not in – schools. Books with offensive material in libraries. Decisions over whose history will be taught, and whose won’t. The curtailment of freedom goes on and on when government takes everyone’s money and provides schools with it. And the more we centralize education – the more diverse people we force to support one system of schools – the greater the cost to liberty.

All of which makes one thing obvious: The only system of learning compatible with a truly free society is not one of government domination, but one rooted in educational choice – public education, not schooling – in which the public assures that all people can access education, but parents are free to choose their children’s schools and educators are free to educate how they wish.

For too long we have ignored freedom when it’s come to education, sacrificing liberty for “test scores” or “efficiency.” As a result, we’ve gotten neither good test scores nor efficiency while fomenting constant social conflict and building increasingly dangerous government control over our children and our lives. But hopefully some good will come of this troubling Obama administration initiative, issuing a desperately needed wakeup call to all Americans about the great damage government education can inflict on otherwise free people.

New DOE Study: On-Line Learning Beats the Classroom Kind

The Dept. of Education has just released a study finding that (predominantly college-aged or older) students learn significantly more if their lessons occur at least partly on-line, than if they rack up seat-time exclusively in conventional classrooms (HT: Matt Ladner).

This makes sense. On-line learning usually allows students to progress at their own pace, so as soon as the student’s ready to move on to the next stage, she can. There’s no falling behind the rest of the class, or doodling in your notebook while you wait for them to catch up. So, like performance-based grouping and one-on-one instruction, it’s more efficient than the status quo, which lumps together students by age regardless of their knowledge or performance.

The great irony of this report is that it bears the name, in its frontmatter, of one Arne Duncan, secretary of education. Secretary Duncan had this to say shortly after taking office back in February: “If we accomplish one thing in the coming years, it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America.”

While the evidence presented by his own Department shows that greater student achievement comes from more individually customized on-line learning, Duncan’s diametrically opposed priority is to homogenize education so that every 10 year old is being taught the same things at the same time.

Fortunately, short of actually outlawing or invasively regulating on-line learning, there’s nothing that anyone can do to stop it from gradually displacing the old model, particularly for high school and older students.

We’re Paying Attention!

In a new column waxing poetic about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration’s efforts to transform American education, Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift suggests that the “right” is not paying attention to the looming “federal takeover of education.” If they were, they’d be screaming their heads off.

Au contraire! We at Cato are paying close attention and screaming (well, raising our voices) about it. In a recent New York Daily News op-ed, Andrew Coulson inveighs against national academic standards. In Cato’s latest Daily Podcast, I give the down and dirty on the so-called “Race to the Top” fund controlled by Duncan. And there are many other people on what Clift probably considers the right - libertarians and conservatives lumped together - who are most certainly paying attention. Unfortunately, many on the conservative side actually favor a federal takeover - whether they’ll admit it or not - which might be why Clift doesn’t hear the clamor from the right she’d expect. If anything, she might actually hear some modest - and mistaken - applause.