The Constitution is silent on education. Not because education wasn’t important to the Founders and Framers; it was – but they recognized it as the responsibility of the family and the local community. In the early days of our Republic, most education took place in the home, where the family taught its children morality, independence, civics, and the fundamentals, and skills/trades from relatives and local artisans and businesses. In 1979, under President Jimmy Carter, despite no clamor from the public, Congress established the federal Department of Education “to establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.” Not a word about improving our education system and/or its work product, i.e., well-educated citizens. And, although the Department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measurement arm produces reams of data annually, one would be hard-pressed to find anything about improving students’ academic performance, skill levels, “readiness for college,” etc. Moreover, at one time, the NAEP also measured the performance of American students versus their international counterparts, but now it’s hard to find (maybe because American students’ performance has fallen so far below the international levels that it became too embarrassing to show).
Still, what “The Nation’s Report Card” (as the NAEP calls itself) does show is quite revealing – if not also very disappointing. Example: The NAEP captures State-by-State data; for Pennsylvania 4th, 8th, and 12th graders, its current “Report Card” shows that, in 2015, our 4th Graders scored only 40%, 33% and 25%, respectively, as “proficient” in Math. (Not “advanced,” merely “proficient.”) As for Reading, the numbers were 34%, 36%, and 37%, respectively. For Science, 38%, 34%, and 22%, respectively. For Civics, 27%, 24%, and 24%, respectively, and for U.S. History, 20%, 25%, and 12%, respectively. By any measure, these figures are abysmal. No wonder Johnny and Sally leave high school totally unprepared for anything!
Wait, there’s more: One might think that such miserable numbers would prompt “the experts” to focus on improving students’ learning and performance, but one would be wrong. For example, in 1992 (the earliest period reported) Pennsylvania 4th Graders’ Reading scores were 221 (out of a possible 500!), and for 2017 (the most recent period reported) their Reading score was 225 – a whopping 4 point increase! For Math (again, for 1992) they scored 224 (out of a possible 500!) and for 2017, a 242 – better, but hardly world-beating. For Science, the only year reported was 2009, with a sore of 154 – out of a possible 300!) For 8th Graders, the numbers are a bit different, but not measurably better: Reading went from 265 to 270; Math went from 266 to 286; Science went down from 154 to 151! As for 12th Graders, although “the Nation’s Report Card” has been doing this at least since 1992, they published nothing. Absolutely amazing! FYI, the Pennsylvania data is not unique; comparable reviews of the same data for Maryland, Michigan, and Kansas yielded similar results.
Here’s the education industry’s dirty little secret (except it’s not so secret): the focus isn’t, as we might hope, on the work product, i.e., well-educated and well-prepared future citizens. Rather, it’s always about money — salaries and budgets. Doubt me? Listen to discussions among the education “professionals.” Rarely if ever are the students — their needs, progress, or concerns – part of the conversation.
Don’t blame the teachers; they’re victims, too. Teachers do what they’re trained to do, and what they’re told to do, and from the state-mandated curricula they’re required to use, and try to do it within the (tight) allotted time frames. No teacher alone can cause the kind of damage to the nation’s students that these reports evidence; the problem is systemic, and, in its nationwide consistency, even toxic. When States, colleges and teachers unions leap at federal money and the “latest and greatest” (as we saw with Common Core) rather than fulfilling their obligation to students and the tax-paying public, it’s time to take a hard look at whether our tax dollars yield ANY benefit to our kids. They desperately need a quality education; but they’re not getting it, not when a full third of high school graduation classes across the country needs remedial schooling, just to be accepted into 2- or 4-year college! That’s a fact that no one in the industry wants publicized, but it’s true. And coupled with the NAEP data, it paints a grim picture of our children’s futures, and of the nation.
We need to change that. And we can. Ask yourself, are our kids – YOUR kids — really “our greatest resource?” When something that’s worked well for many years all of a sudden doesn’t, it’s usually because someone (typically an “expert”) has screwed it up. And the solution is to go back to what worked so well for so long. Remember, education starts at home (not the classroom). Give your kids/grandkids the time and attention they need and deserve. Even just an hour a day can be huge (BTW, that’s more individual time than they get all day at school.) Here’s a test to see where YOUR school’s or district’s focus is: Which is more important — scholarships earned, or graduation rates? The former goes to substance, the latter to mere window dressing. By all means, know what your kids/grandkids are exposed to in school, and whether that comports with your civic and moral values. If not, change the school — or change schools; there ARE options.
Is the Department of Education constitutional? Not according to Article I, Section 8. Is it cost-effective? Not according to 40 years of experience. Once again, it turns out that the Founders and Framers actually knew what they were doing. Maybe we should start paying closer attention.
. I welcome comments and suggestions; if you have a specific question or area of the Constitution you’d like addressed, please send your idea to me.