A front page article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “Biggest Changes in a Decade Greet Students in Classroom”, discusses many new and recent developments in K-12 education. The controversial Common Core, with tougher math and reading standards, has been adopted by 45 states. A total of 41 states have agreed to link teacher evaluations to test scores or other student achievement measures and 15 states use, or plan to use, an A – F grading scale to rate schools. Last year there were 5997 charter schools, up from 2559 during the 2002-2003 school year.
What all of this means is that states are hotbeds of educational experimentation. Meanwhile Congress is trying to figure out how to replace the unpopular No Child Left Behind law which was enacted in 2002 and has been renewed on a year by year basis since it expired in 2007. Both the Senate and the House are currently considering legislation to give individual states more flexibility in figuring out how to increase educational success.
The fiscal implications of this whole movement of educational reform and decentralization are huge. The U.S. Department of Education has over 100 separate programs for K-12 education alone, involving massive duplication and inefficiency, with a combined budget of $100 billion per year. A smaller total amount of money could be given directly to the states in the form of block grants devoted to education. The states are able to spend the money more effectively than the federal DoE and at less total cost. Conclusion: better results for significantly less money.
This helps reduce the deficit!
The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke has recently described, in “A-Plus: A Conservative Alternative to NCLB”, a new bill, The Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act, recently introduced into both houses of Congress. A+ would allow states to completely opt out of all programs which fall under No Child Left Behind and send NCLB funding back to the states in the form of block grants to be used for the most pressing educational needs.
Under such an arrangement, states would have to describe how they plan to improve education for disadvantaged students. Performance data for various student demographic groups would be disaggregated and states would have to demonstrate how they have narrowed achievement gaps. Many other safeguards would also be in place.
The problems with NCLB are well known. The Adequate Yearly Progress requirement, that all students be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014, is unrealistic and has led to the watering-down of proficiency standards. The Highly Qualified Teacher mandate is too rigid and should be under the purview of local education leaders. Standards and assessments, such as the Common Core and national tests, would no longer be dictated by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
There are huge budgetary ramifications of A+. At the present time there are over 80 individual grant programs under NCLB, which have a total annual budget of more than $25 billion. Consolidating all of these numerous individual programs into a single K-12 block grant to each state would easily allow a 20%, or $5 billion, annual savings to the federal government as well as saving states and local school systems much expense in administering the newly streamlined federal education policy.
Here is an example of a good way of improving one particularly large and expensive federal program. This sort of retrenchment needs to happen throughout the federal government. Let’s get started in doing what needs to be done!