Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Federal Role in Education

My post a few days back on federal funding of education research got some good comments, and there's two that I'd like to point out for further discussion. First, from The Teacher at A Voice from the Middle:

Trust me, I think there are a lot of priorities out of wack and that education should get A LOT more funding, but the thing that we tend to forget is that education is not a FEDERAL issue but rather a STATE one. The list you provided is really comparing apples to oranges because everything else on that list is federally focused and there really is no state equivilant.

The Founders felt that education was something best handled by the people in the community involved. I frankly think we need to serious look at getting rid of the Dept. of Education and turn over their entire budgets dirctly to the states specifically for each state's educational programming and research.
This is an interesting thought. I believe that eliminating the Department of Education was a part of the Republican Party platform until just recently--one website I found has Bob Dole making it a campaign promise in 1996--but at the same time it's been under a Republican president in recent years that the DoE has been given the most power that its ever had to wield. And on the surface I can understand the logic behind thinking that local people would know best what would work in local schools.

Where I think the argument falls apart, though, is when you consider the best thing that NCLB has done for us: data. A federal mandate to test and disaggregate is a powerful piece of accountability that many schools have resisted furiously, but it's also the most valuable tool we have for identifying schools in trouble. States may have come up with plans on their own, but without the big stick of the Feds looming in the background I don't believe that there would have been any systemic change.

The next comment came from JL, who I think would be a spectacular blogger:
Fact: The federal government can only do two things in education that states could not do: 1) take money from one state and give it to another. 2) Force a state to do something it would not choose to do if left to its own devices.

Which of these two justifies holding pom-poms for more federal invovlement?
#2.

In Washington we're fortunate to have what I think is a pretty good state level research organization, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. They've taken a critical look at the WASL, our state assessment, and there's a ton of value in what they do.

What they don't provide is a national perspective, like we get from ERIC (a federal program) or more regionally from groups like the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory. If the education systems of the 50 states were truly balkanized, what incentive would they have to share best practices with each other? That's what a group like NWREL can provide.

Are the feds over-involved in local decisions? Quite possibly. If there's any are where I want Washington DC to take a leadership role, though, it's in the research and dissemination of information.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

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