Thursday, May 24, 2012

Education Accountability Must Originate At The Local Level

A number of recent Oklahoman editorials have disparaged those NOT backing  ACE tests and the A-F grading system.  Apparently, those of us begging to differ with these complicated, federally-derived, accountability systems want dumbed-down standards that will graduate scores of unemployable public school students all across Oklahoma. 

Not to dodge credit, but that trend likely began in 1965 when the first 31 page, 605 section Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now No Child Left Behind – NCLB) unleashed a tidal wave of federal regulations upon local schools and established the ‘pay for play’ scheme that keeps states towing the line (according to the feds, "Here schools, do what we tell you to do, and if you do, we'll give you back some of the money we steal from your state's taxpayers to make you do what we want you to do.")  

Today’s NCLB is 9,601 sections and an untold number of actual printed pages.   

This in stark contrast to the philosophy of America’s Founders who believed that free public grammar school should be supplied by every township containing 50 families or more to teach the fundamentals of reading, writing, ciphering, history, geography and Bible study, with control and oversight directed by local school boards – a system which by 1776 had produced a higher literacy rate than we have today.

Could unchecked growth of federal control over public education be why NAEP reading scores for 17-year-olds have increased only one point since 1971 and NAEP math scores for 17-year-olds have increased only two points – over 41 years?  Why have SAT scores in the verbal category dropped 25 points since 1972 and math scores increased by only one?

According to the American Enterprise Institute, who released a paper entitled, Federal Compliance Works Against Education Policy Goals, “…fiscal and administrative requirements often lead to expensive and time-consuming compliance processes that are not related to improving student achievement or school success.”  Lindsay Burke, writing for the Heritage Foundation in The Dead Hand of Education Reform also reports that, “…while the feds provided just 7% of education funding, they accounted for 41% of the paperwork burden imposed on the states…”

Santa Fe South High School in Oklahoma City personified this thesis recently when they submitted their NCLB waiver (A-F) paperwork to the SDE only to find out that, while their test scores were fine, they were placed on the failing school list because their paperwork wasn’t filled out properly. 

The same day the disapproval of the A-F rules passed the Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee, Governor Fallin issued a press release indicating her support of the rules and the SDE issued a press release touting their receipt of nearly 7 million dollars in School Improvement Grants to be used for “turning around” schools determined to be ‘failing’ under the NCLB-prescribed A-F grading system.  

My son, in first grade at our local public elementary, doesn’t know his basic math facts or parts of speech, but has had week long units on Global Warming and Rainforest Ecology between his 2 days a week of Art (his is an Arts Integration school).  Recently, his teacher told me she just “doesn’t have time to teach [math facts] to mastery” because she has to teach to the test – the results of which will soon determine whether she keeps her job.

Not only are regulations and/or mandates confusing and generally counterproductive, they are expensive.  In a paper just released by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the authors show how regulations drive up costs and reduce competition.  In public education, the case can be made that mandates and regulations force money to be spent OUTSIDE the classroom on administrative and compliance processes that do not affect student learning, making it impossible for actual school choice to occur by reducing competition.  Why take your child to another public school when that school will be subjected to all the same federal mandates and regulations as all other public schools?  The authors also discuss the adverse incentives rife at the federal level to continue this trend ad infinitum. 

In the Competitive Enterprise Institute's yearly publication, "Ten Thousand Commandments 2012", the authors put an actual number to the cost of overall federal regulation.  They report, "Regulatory compliance costs dwarf corporate income taxes of $198 billion, and exceed individual income taxes and even pre-tax corporate profits."  We should absolutely take umbrage with this notion - especially when it applies to those institutions supposedly teaching our children the basic skills needed to succeed in life.

Vilifying those of us who believe education is a local issue best dealt with by parents, district school boards and education officials rather than nameless faceless bureaucrats at the federal – or even state level – will not change the fact that a layered, top-down bureaucracy will never solve governance problems like a locality.  Government closest to the people (parents) is always best because it is nearest the needs of the people being served (students/parents) and paying for the services (parents/taxpayers).