The GOP and Education, Part 2

In the first part of this topic, I argued there is a need for a federal Department of Education, albeit in a new, restricted role.  Arguing for the outright abolition of the department is a counterproductive one not based in reality.  For example, the fact is that many states and local districts lack the financial resources for ESL and special education.  We cannot on one hand demand that immigrants become proficient in the English language, then deny that opportunity on the other hand.  That would be an unfunded mandate.  Thus, there is a need for a federal department of education.

It is also needed for the many higher education programs offered by the federal government.  This writer has no problem with the federal government paying for higher education provided that funding goes only to our best and brightest students in subject areas for which there is a national need.  This writer has a huge problem if we use that for social engineering, for affirmative action purposes and the like.  Quite frankly, why should my tax dollars pay for the education of an African Studies student?  Do we need teachers?  Yes, but not in every discipline.  Do we need engineers?  Yes.  Do we need Gender Studies graduates?  Not so much.

Every higher education grant program should be predicated upon the ROTC/TEACH grant model.  It is also a model used in France to encourage general practitioners in medicine.  It is basically a quid pro quo arrangement where the government pays all or part of an individual’s costs of higher education in exchange for filling a national need.  For example, TEACH grants are given to aspiring teachers in exchange for teaching a certain subject (math and science for example) in need, or in a region with a need for such teachers (Appalachia for example).  Provided the graduate attains employment in that discipline or region deemed “in need,” it remains a grant.  Failure results in the grant converting to a loan within a certain time period.

ROTC pays for a college education and asks that the graduate serve in the military for a certain period of time.  It addresses a definite need.  The program in France pays for a student’s medical education provided they are general practitioners AND they practice in a region deemed “in need.”  France not only pays for their education, but also provides a yearly stipend for a certain period of time not subject to national taxation.  It is considerably below the going rate for doctors in France and for specialties, but it addresses a need.  The individual is free to pursue a specialty during this time frame.

The only drawback is politicization of college majors.  Simply, not all majors are created equal.  If you want to pursue a major in Gender Studies, the individual is free to do so… but not on the government dole.  And don’t come crying to the federal government about your accumulated debt because your major landed you a job at Forever 21.

Likewise, not all college aspirants are created equal.  We can argue about the causes, but if there is a need for remedial courses in higher education then that illustrates a huge problem with the educational system.  That does not mean the individual cannot become a functional member of society.  I am sure that many readers know many people without a college education who live quite comfortably.  A plumber, a car mechanic, an electrician…even a car salesman does not need a college education.  College should be reserved for only our best and brightest students based on individual achievement and proven accomplishment.

In fact, it is quite elitist for the Left to insist that every high school graduate has a right to a college education.  That is like looking down the nose at the Joe the Plumber’s of the world.  Statistics show that having a college education increases one’s lifetime income.  Those statistics are great on a broad-stroke basis, but they deny the individuality of the non-college graduate and their worth to society.

With regards to universal preschool, it sounds great provided it is not a federal program.  In effect, the one present now- Head Start- is government daycare and nothing more.  Studies have proven it’s ineffectiveness.  A graduate of Head Start shows improvement over other students until the second grade…maybe at best.  Federally-mandated or financed universal preschool should be a non-starter for the GOP.

Studies do show that preschool has some benefits if the program is run and financed at the local level and actually has better long-term outcomes than private preschools.  For example, in the district where I substitute teach preschool is provided but not mandatory.  There is a world of difference in the demeanor and academic performance of those who take advantage of the program and those who do not.  That is because the transition from preschool to kindergarten and beyond is seamless; the student enters formal education knowing what is expected of them as far as discipline and academics is concerned.

Offering non-mandatory preschool at the local level makes sense because of the residual outcomes which are generally positive.  Mandating and financing it at the national level will create a huge bureaucracy with outcomes similar to Head Start and the experiences there are not encouraging.  In fact, a state or local district can fund a preschool program with the savings by offering vouchers which I explained in the previous diary entry.  By making it non-mandatory, individual families can choose for themselves whether to take advantage of it, “teach” kids at home, or even send them- at their own cost- to a private or parochial preschool.  The choice would be left to the individuals.

Every educational policy in a new GOP must be predicated upon three guiding principles:

  1. Choice;
  2. The individual/family, and;
  3. The belief that reforms are better left at the state/local level closest to the individual.

In higher education, it must be predicated upon demonstrated need and reserved only for those deserving of being in college in the first place.  Through these broad-based policies and philosophy, the many tentacles that reach into public education from the federal educational bureaucratic behemoth can be severed.

The fact is that by denying students in poor performing districts which are usually minority-dominated (but certainly not all) educational choice be it through denial of vouchers or restrictions on charter schools and the like, the Left and, by extension, the NEA/AFT are practicing an insidious form of racism.  Their solution which invariably involves just spending more money has been a 50-year failed experiment.  It is time a different approach towards educational reforms based upon choice and the individual by getting the federal government out of the way.