Sunday, February 28, 2010

End Fed ED

Obama's 'austere' budget calls for new $19 billion education boondoggle

President Obama recently announced that his proposed fiscal 2011 budget would freeze all non-defense discretionary spending. All, that is, except spending on education, and by default, the department that handles most of the money. It's an exception that casts considerable doubt on both the president's seriousness about killing wasteful spending, and his grasp of federal education reality.

With the national debt a gargantuan $12.4 trillion - or $40,200 for every American - it should be painfully obvious that Washington needs to cut every red cent of nonessential spending. Yet Mr. Obama's budget calls for an $18.6 billion increase in Education Department spending over 2010, with a total appropriation of nearly $78 billion. But wait - isn't education "essential?" Yes, but federal involvement absolutely is not.

For one thing, except for granting jurisdiction over the District of Columbia and empowering the feds to prohibit schooling discrimination by states, the Constitution gives Washington zero authority to meddle in education. That means every federal education program, and the department itself, is unconstitutional. Of course, these days mentioning that the Constitution gives Washington no authority to do something is like telling a drunk that chugging Long Island ice teas is verboten. It's completely accurate, gets to the root of the problem, but will almost certainly be ignored.

The Founders gave the feds no education power for good reason. They knew that a national government couldn't effectively govern education or anything else that works best when tailored to the unique needs of individual people and communities.

History has borne their wisdom out. Since the 1965 passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - of which No Child Left Behind is just a continuation - federal education expenditures have been like the Alps, but academic outcomes like the Bonneville Salt Flats. Since 1970, inflation-adjusted federal spending per-pupil has risen almost 190 percent, while academic performance by 17-year-olds - our schools' "final products" - has stagnated.

How have things been in higher education? In particular, what have we gotten from decades of the federal grants, loans, work-study, and tax incentives through which Mr. Obama would like to furnish college students with more than $173 billion in 2011? More people have certainly gone to college: In 1960 - five years before passage of the seminal Higher Education Act - only 7.7 percent of Americans ages 25 and older had bachelor's degrees. By 2008, nearly 30 percent did. But that credential explosion has come at a steep, self-defeating cost.

First, there's a glut of degree holders: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 21 percent of jobs require bachelor's degrees - bad news for the tens of millions of surplus B.A. and B.S. holders.

Second, sheepskin has been seriously devalued. Among many signs of this, the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy reveals that the percentage of Americans whose top degree is a bachelor's who were "proficient" readers dropped by about 10 points between 1992 and 2003 - and only about 38 percent were proficient in 1992. Americans with graduate degrees saw similar drops.

But the greatest cost has been, well, college costs. Ever-growing aid has encouraged students to demand more from schools - extravagant recreation centers, gourmet food, luxurious dorms - and enabled schools to rapidly increase charges. It's no coincidence that since 1979, real aid per student - most of it federal - rose 149 percent, while public four-year college charges ballooned 105 percent and private prices 126 percent.

What to do? The solution is obvious: Get the feds out of education. They do little more than take money from taxpayers, shave off big sums for bureaucratic processing - Mr. Obama is calling for more than $1.8 billion to run the Education Department - and return the remainder with stultifying regulations attached.

Unfortunately, logic and political reality rarely meet. The primary political problem is that those whose livelihoods come from government-dominated education are most motivated and best organized to engage in education politics. The Department of Education exacerbates the problem, giving everyone from college lobbyists to teachers unions a Cabinet-level nerve center through which to command ever-more money and protection from accountability.

That said, the other political problem is that many Americans - who are generally too busy with other things to cogitate over why government fails - truly equate federal politicians interfering in education with improving education. But as decades of academic stagnation and belt-busting budgets have proven, that's just not the case.

Federal education meddling, and the department through which most of it is done, must end. Our fiscal and educational futures depend on it.


School asks students: 'why not' be sexually active

A team of lawyers who advocate for parental rights is working with parents whose children attend Ventura High School in Southern California to raise a formal objection after teachers had students fill out a survey on sex with questions such as "Are you sexually active" and "If not, why not?"

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, said the first step will be to file an administrative complaint. "The parents have tried to reason with school officials about this, but so far administrators have failed to grasp that giving the students this survey without prior written notice and consent was illegal," he said.

The survey was reported in the student Cougar Press in December. The report apparently was not included as part of the paper's ordinary online presentation, officials said, but was obtained by a parent who posted the pages only for other parents to see.

The newspaper, in addition to the sex survey results, included a page of photographs of students revealing what songs put them "in the mood," a sex crossword puzzle and other advocacy for being sexually active. A school spokesman said officials could not comment.

Dacus told WND schools should know that parents need to be able to trust their schools for the education system to work.

"When parental trust is breached, then school districts end up losing that participation," he said. "If school districts … want to be successful, they have to respect the rights of parents and not be caught doing things behind the backs of parents."

He said the primary issue is that a state law forbids such sex surveys without parental knowledge. He said the problem only was revealed because a student took a copy home, in violation of instructions she was given, and some parents found out. The questions included:

* What grade were you in when you lost your virginity?

* What is your overall number of partners you have engaged in sexual activity with?

* Were you sober the first time you engaged in sexual activity?"

* Have you or your partner ever had an abortion?"

* How often do you engage in sexual activity?"

* Are your parents aware of your sexual activity?

Pacific Justice said that according to the newspaper, the survey was given to 1,000 students in every grade in high school. The organization said it was administered with the knowledge and assistance of the high school during second class period and had no relationship to any subject the students were enrolled in at that time.

"The school allowed the use of instructional time to administer the survey and the teachers then collected it and handed it over to the newspaper," said parent John Silva, who obtained a copy of the newspaper from a concerned student.

"Because the sex survey was given without prior written notice and subsequent written consent by the parents or guardians, the school violated the law," said Kevin Snider, chief counsel of the Pacific Justice Institute. "By facilitating the newspaper to conduct the survey, we feel the school was complicit in violating the rights of the parents," said Julie Wilson, a parent of a high school student.


New High School qualification introduced by the British Labour party REALLY dumbs education down

Teenagers taking Labour’s new diplomas will learn “far less” about key subjects than A-level students, a Government advisor has warned. Sir Mike Tomlinson, former head of Ofsted, said the Government’s new qualifications in academic subjects would lack some of the “knowledge, content, concept and understanding” offered in other courses – damaging pupils’ chances of getting into university.

The comments are the latest in a series of attacks on diplomas which ministers claim could eventually replace GCSEs and A-levels altogether. The qualifications – for 14 to 19-year-olds – combine classroom study and work-based training. They are currently offered in 10 practical subjects such as media, construction and IT, with plans for seven more in coming years. This includes three in the traditional academic areas of science, languages and humanities.

Sir Mike suggested courses would have no more teaching time than A-levels, despite being far more complicated to run. “My worry is that the result of that may well be that we have far less knowledge, content, concept and understanding in what we do than is currently in A-level, which I think would greatly worry higher education,” he said.

Sir Mike was the author of a 2004 report on the qualifications system, which led to the development of diplomas. Labour has said diplomas could eventually become the “qualification of choice”, replacing existing courses altogether.

But in an interview with the Times Educational Supplement, Sir Mike said: “I think there is a huge commitment to the A-level and until such a time as an alternative is shown to be better than the A-level, people will want to stick with what they know.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "The Diploma is a very new qualification that is still developing. Those that have been introduced are increasingly popular. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions about those that haven’t even started yet.” He added: "Diplomas are delivering the mix of theoretical and practical skills that employers and universities value and for this reason they could indeed become the qualification of choice for young people."


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