Congressman Raul Labrador (R) this week co-sponsored a bill by Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) that would eliminate the U.S. Department of Education by 2018.
While the bill has been dubbed “largely symbolic,” it reflects the Congress’ new shotgun approach to legislation with the use of the Congressional Review Act; also lined up in its sights is the Every Student Succeeds Act which was enacted in 2016. President Reagan tried to dismantle the Department of Education in the early ‘80s, when he commissioned the National Commission on Excellence in Education to research the state of American education vis a vis the rest of the world. Confident in our superiority, Reagan was instead dismayed when the final report, “A Nation at Risk” (1983), asserted that U.S. students scored far worse than comparable students in the more advanced economies globally. Rather than dismantle the DoE, a rush to develop and fund programs occurred instead, with the objective of bringing test scores up to the level of other nations such as Finland and Norway.
Along with focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the new narrative was an urgent need to increase the knowledge capital of the United States, resulting in funding to improve schools and a new accountability system (NCLB). The purpose of education was reframed to prepare American youth for college, career, and to become “the most productive workers in the world.” Unfortunately, 2015 PISA scores have shown that U.S. students have not risen far in the ranks; in addition, since NCLB did not result in the hoped for outcomes, Congress shifted the responsibility for school improvement and accountability to the states (ESSA), and rewrote the law to restrict the role of the Secretary of Education.
This was a drastic step, but it was far from the current proposal to completely abolish the agency, which would further promote the DeVos ideology of privatizing education and pushing American children into charter schools, a way of diverting tax dollars into the pockets of education enterprises whose competence is questionable. This will fragment education and can only reduce our global standing even further, as the academic record of private charter schools is dismal at best. How is this in our national interest? Even if you aren’t fond of public education, it is unimaginable that our youth will be better served by a cluster of corporations driven by profits.
The move toward localizing education has merit, especially if communities can participate in developing curricula and student conduct codes, but the national interest of the United States is not served by dismantling what progress we have made since 1983. Your Congressman needs to hear your thoughts on education.