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 March 2001
Volume 19, Number 3

 

Bush's Education Plan
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

 

A proper education reform would involve at least three steps. First, end all involvement in the issue by the federal government. Second, at the state level, end compulsory attendance laws that strike at the heart of individual and family freedom. Third, privatize the system so that users pay the going market price and nonusers are let off the hook. 

President Bush s education bill deals with only the first point, and goes in exactly the wrong direction, which is why Teddy Kennedy praised the bill when it was first introduced. As summed up by the New York Times: "President Bush proposed a significant increase today in the federal role in public education." From a free-market perspective, that is all you need to know. 

Think of this: for the first time in the history of the United States, the federal government will impose a national test to determine what kids learn. The test is called the National Assessment of Education Progress. For now, it measures overall scores within schools, not scores of individual students. This is supposed to provide "accountability" but in fact will only mean conformism and regimentation. 

Under the Bush system in Texas, teachers teach the test. They drill until ninety percent of the kids can pass it. The weakest among the students dictate the pace and method. It is a dreary and unimaginative approach to teaching. But if your goal is to boost overall scores, no question: this is the way to do it. 

What happens to superior students? They are shuffled off to supposedly advanced classes to mark time, learning about the environment and such until the next school year rolls around and they can move on. In practice, this system limits the performance of good students in the name of ballooning the scores of the worst students. It is egalitarian at root. 

Listen to the language: we are told that this bill will seek out "failing schools." What does this mean? That the bricks are disintegrating? If students aren' t performing well, why not admit that we are dealing with failing students and failing teachers? Already, a lack of personal responsibility is built-in to this approach to school reform.

Bush s approach is supposed to be "conservative" and Republican because it introduces the idea of vouchers. If the "schools fail" again and again, the students are permitted to take the equivalent of the federal subsidy and use it at private schools. 

Hence, the federal government will be giving direct aid to private schools via individual students. This is the policy nightmare that conservatives before about 1985 had warned about for generations. And yet here it is, coming to fruition under a Republican president, to Republican cheers.

Federal aid to private schools is a disaster in the making. The budget will grow and grow, and evil bureaucrats in the federal government will have their fingers in the affairs of private schools, overriding state laws and the independence that parents demand of these schools. 

The Bush people refused to say how much this big-spending, big- government proposal will cost, which is always a bad sign. But it will certainly be in the billions. 

The only saving grace of this bill is the education savings plan that would permit parents to spend up to $5,000 per year for tuition and not pay taxes on the money. No word yet on whether that would apply to homeschoolers and whether the school chosen by the parents would have to be federally certified in some way. What kinds of information will the IRS demand to permit you to use this provision?

Like many well-intentioned reformers, Bush doesn' t seem to understand the dangers of power. We don' t need another reform. We need an end to what has been called the "twelve-year sentence," also known as compulsory public schooling.

Too extreme? There are halfway measures. We could curb union control of the teacher's profession. We could stop mandating what is taught and how, giving more authority to local school districts. We could end menacing court supervision of the racial makeup of schools. We could curb the power of the unconstitutional Department of Education, or, better yet, abolish it. Alas, such sensible approaches will have to wait until another attempt to reform a failed system fails yet again.

_________________

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. is president of the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and editor of LewRockwell.com (rockwell@mises.org).

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