- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

All schools have success stories. It is the failures we ought to know about. These were the sentiments expressed by Joyce A. Ladner, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former president of Howard University, at a public hearing on education in the fall of 1996.
While Miss Ladner's remarks were greeted with applause, I am saddened to report the status quo continues to control policies. My hope lies with the Bush administration and a new Congress.
Perhaps you, too, will hope things change after a peek at the FY 2001 budget for the U.S. Department of Education. The folks over at the U.S. Department of Education's budget office say the FY 2001 budget is $38 billion. The money will be spent on about 175 programs in about 15,000 school districts. More than $2 billion will spent on lowering pupil-teacher ratios and another $1.2 billion on school construction programs.
The budget folks also say that 98 cents of every federal education dollar is spent on "assistance" to schools in those 15,000 school districts. But you know a more accurate breakdown would show that much, if not most, of that 98 cents is used to comply with federal regulations on how that 98 cents can and cannot be spent. In other words much, if not most, of that 98 cents never reaches the classroom where Johnny is struggling with his multiplication tables and reading about Chaucer because he certainly wasn't prepared to read Beowulf.
The question now becomes: Will the Bush administration perpetrate more of the same? Or will it push to abolish the Department of Education?
Consider a few of the dollar-for-dollar dilemmas, such as Head Start, which serves 935,000 American children at a cost of $6.2 billion. Initially begun as a program to give youngsters a "head start" in their schooling, the program might as well be called a failure. Test scores for nearly two generations consistently prove that those youngsters fare no better by time they reach third or fourth grade.
Another debatable issue is class size. The Clinton administration and the teachers' lobbies fought hard to win $1.6 billion to reduce class sizes. One of their arguments then, as now, is that Johnny would be better-off in a smaller class. If that were true, what do you do in the District of Columbia, where some teachers have fewer than 15 students in their middle and high-school classrooms yet those same students score below basic on standardized reading and math tests year after year?
Consider the school facilities as well. The FY 2001 education budget includes $1.2 billion to repair America's aging school houses. The Clinton administration pressed for this huge pot of money to help fulfill another of its unmet promises to have every classroom wired by the year 2000.
Again, the example is the District, which is in the midst of a $2 billion capital improvement plan for schools. Most D.C. schools were built between World War I and the Vietnam War far too old to accommodate today's high-tech needs. Many schools, instead of wiring all classrooms, try to make do with computer labs, shortchanging students who get to spend one class period on a computer.
What's worse is the curriculum. Instead of having students solve problems, write reports and do research on a the Internet, high school students take "keyboarding." The classes are taught by teachers well-paid, unionized teachers who sit behind their computers and peruse the National Education Association's web site while your hard-earned tax dollars are wasted by students typing "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."
Financing such teaching methods that are as ancient as the facilities they are taught in is unconscionable. Yet that is precisely what goes on in America's schools in the year 2001.
Head Start policies the successes and failures must be debated before such programs are refunded another year. Ditto funding for school construction, smaller classes, bilingual programs and any other program funded in the name of the Department of Education.
In fact, the Bush administration must ask itself the inevitable. Does Johnny really need a separate Department of Education?
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