Later today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be launching an initiative to secure $5 billion “to transform the teacher profession from top to bottom.”  While there is quite a bit of political maneuvering surrounding this announcement, it truly represents the worst of the flawed ideology that has seriously damaged education in America.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the last six words of the above quote: “from the top to the bottom.” Through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the federal government has forced a “one size fits all” policy that affects every school district in the Union. While the Obama administration has granted several waivers for NCLB, the proposed $5 billion would be doled out through “competition” among the states. Of course, the winner of the “competition” will be those who conform best to the homogenizing policies that the Obama administration promotes.
The result will be (and has been) an entire generation who has learned to think in the same way. When everyone is educated in the same exact manner, preparing for the same tests, a uniform manner of thinking will predominate. This will make it easier to track progress, undoubtedly, but it presents a fundamental problem. Solutions arise from a diversity of thought – from those who are able to think differently, or outside of the box. With these overarching federal policies, the federal government is essentially using the same cast iron mold to develop the minds of all our young people.
The most common defense of this cast iron mold is “but we can’t let the states just do whatever they want!” But this is precisely what we should do. If each state were left to its own to craft education policy, the country could run 50 education experiments all at once. States could look to their peers and see what works and what doesn’t work, and adjust accordingly.
But of course, the issue of funding rears its ugly head. The reason why cash strapped states conform in the first place is to obtain federal funding. Government is inherently political, so as long as government continues to dominate education, the debates surrounding education will unfortunately remain politically oriented. As much as a politician may say that “it’s all about the children”, the fact of the matter is that it’s all about the power and the money.
The prospects for real education reform are dim, despite it being an election year and the prominence that education will play in the debate. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum have all expressed their support for renewing or reinforcing No Child Left Behind. Although there was some squawking about pruning the Department of Education, these candidates, particularly Romney, have done little to differentiate their education policies from the President’s. With the exception of Ron Paul, the Republicans propose “more federal involvement” while Obama has been for “even more federal involvement.”
Decentralization of education will create a greater diversity of thought, and better equip the next generation to face challenges. States should not be coerced into adopting the federal government’s education agenda. As long as the Department of Education continues to bribe the states with funding, education will remain in the hands of politicians and diversity of thought will be strangled.