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Op-Ed: Deconstructing the Argument in Favor of Abolishing the Department of Education

Calls to abolish the Department of Education have been made ever since it was officially established in the late 70s. In fact, one of Ronald Reagan's most popular campaign promises (though he didn't fulfill it, obviously) was to get rid of the Department once in office.

Now, calls to abolish the Department are louder than ever in the wake of the controversial No Child Left Behind era; earlier this month, Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that in a singular line mandates the abolishment of the Department by the end of 2018.

Current President Donald Trump, though he hasn't flat-out said he wants to get rid of the Department, did say he is in favor of drastically cutting its funding and reducing its powers. No "schools flushed with cash" under his watch, that's for sure.

Logan Albright, a writer for the Conservative Review, recently authored an article addressing this hype. The article, 5 Smart Reasons to Abolish the Department of Education, does a great job defining the conservative argument that the Department of Education should be abolished once and for all. Here's why it's very, very wrong.

1. It's unconstitutional

Albright's first argument against the Department is that it goes against the Constitution. "The word 'education' never occurs in the U.S. Constitution," Albright writes. "The federal government," he says, "is not authorized to meddle."

Thousands of disadvantaged children deprived of equal opportunity and a fighting chance to be successful like their wealthier peers that are in clear need of help beyond what their local and state governments have the capability to provide? Let them eat cake, Albright basically says.

Could the Founding Fathers have possibly predicted that in 2016 fifteen percent of Mississippi's third graders would be unable to pass the state's basic literacy test? It is no coincidence that Mississippi is both the poorest state in America and also the state where students struggle most to succeed. With no federal oversight and without a national standard, are we supposed to accept such a cycle because of an age-old document?

2. It's expensive.

"The Department of Education comprises more than 80 sub-agencies, employs more than 4,000 people, and has an annual budget of nearly $70 billion. When you include other federal spending like Head Start and the School Lunch Program, that number swells to more than $100 billion," Albright writes.

$100 billion seems like a lot, sure. Compare it, however, to the budget for the Department of Defense (DoD) and it pales in comparison. The budget for the DoD last year was an astounding $582.7 billion, a budget that has swelled in order to fight the fights to "come in 10, 20 or 30 years."

Similarly to an investment in defense, education pays back for years to come. Investing in smart federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Math initiatives help America's students pursue careers of the future, an investment that pays off for not only years but for generations to come.

3. It doesn't work.

In just five sentences, Albright attempts to argue that the Department of Education conclusively does not work.

"The more money we spend, the less students benefit. The department itself recently admitted that education spending isn't producing any measurable results — a finding, which conforms with previous analyses of programs like Head Start and the department in general," Albright says.

While it's true that a recent report revealed that the Obama administration spent $7 billion on school improvement without tangible results, it must be taken into consideration that there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to these reports. For instance, many experts agree that it takes some time before definitive improvements can be seen when analyzing things like major school reform.

Further, there's a lot of evidence that indicates the U.S. is making improvements when it comes to its education system. For instance, the graduation rate for U.S. high school students is at an all-time high. Over 80 percent of all U.S. students are now obtaining their high school diplomas, a record feat.

So just saying "it doesn’t work" ignores the complexity of overseeing quality education for 50 states and falsely attributes the lack of all U.S. students to achieve academic superiority on a global scale to the existence of the Department of Education.

4. It hinders school choice and student freedom

Ah, would it be a conservative argument without mentioning and completely butchering the definition of the Common Core Standards?

"Perhaps the most infamous of Department of Education initiatives was Common Core, foisted upon the states through a complex system of incentives and penalties with the goal of imposing standardization of testing and, to a certain extent, curricula across the whole country," Albright writes.

The evil Common Core had the goal of "making schools everywhere the same, in spite of the fact that different states, different cities, and different children have diverse education requirements that cannot be met by a single top-down structure," Albright says.

What conservatives like Albright fail to understand is the well-meaning intentions behind a set of national standards. If you are forced to relocate your family from State A to State B, wouldn't you feel awful if you found out that State A's educational standards were far different from State B's and your daughter, already struggling to transition to a new city, is now falling behind and struggling to adjust?

This is just one example of many for why experts and policymakers and thought leaders got together and decided that a set of national standards is a good idea. Unfortunately, as they've admitted time and again, they underestimated actually how much effort would have to be put into rolling out these standards on a national scale. But their failures weren't because they developed a bad product. Sure, many states have revolted and ditched the "Common Core," but most have actually just removed the name "Common Core" while keeping the majority of the standards' content.

"Like every other market, the market for education thrives only when innovation, competition, and experimentation are allowed to flourish. The Department of Education has devoted itself to stamping out all of that," Albright writes.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Common Core seemed like an experiment that has since led to tons of state-led innovation and absolutely a ton of competition.

5. It’s really, really creepy

To drive his point home, Albright did something that rubs everyone the wrong way: combined "education" and "creepy." According to Albright, the increasing efforts of the Department of Education to collect data on students is "creepy."

That's right, because using data to figure out how to best help the country's disadvantaged students like students with disabilities, English Language Learners and minority students is not in the best of interest of our nation's underrepresented students, it is instead, "creepy."

Of course, at no point in Albright's article does he attempt to answer how the country might improve educational outcomes in light of the Department's absence. So long as the Constitution is respected, the word Common Core is never uttered ever again and those damn Department workers stop being so "creepy," all is well in the abolish-the-Department camp.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

2/14/2017

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