One area that should unite conservatives is educational policy. I have written extensively on this subject and tried to draw a line from the point where the federal government got involved in educational policy as being the starting point of decline or stagnation of the educational process. That was with the passage and full implementation of ESEA back in the 1960’s. Subsequent revisions, such as No Child Left Behind, have also resulted in stagnation although the efforts in certain areas may have been laudable. The problem, to me, is that a top-down one-size-fits-all educational policy is a losing proposition from the start.
For years, public education had been a reality in the country, much of it dictated by state constitutions. There were, admittedly, discrepancies between the states with minority students, at times, getting the short end of the stick. But, it wasn’t Johnson’s War on Poverty that started to address those problems, but the breakdown of legal barriers against segregation that were starting to show improvements in minority academic performance.
This federal intrusion into education reached its culmination with creation of the Department of Education. Today, many conservatives argue that the department should be abolished and control of K-12 education returned exclusively to the states. That is a conservative Utopia and one, I am afraid, will never come to pass in my lifetime. Instead, the department should be one that takes a hands-off policy towards educational reforms at the state level by not hamstringing those efforts with unnecessary rules and regulations. At the very least. the Department should not be throwing good money at failing policies and rewarding failure. Further, the Department should transform itself into one that focuses primarily on higher education.
In that regard, one of the most important things Secretary Betsy DeVos has done since assuming control of the Department is to rescind the Obama edicts regarding sexual assault on college campuses. The CDC reports that 1 in 4 college females will be the victim of some sexual assault. If that is true, then no good father would be sending their daughters off to college with those odds. But, in fact, statistics from 2016 show that female students exceed male students in college nationwide. The problem is twofold: (1) the definition of sexual assault has been stretched beyond reason, and (2) the statistics are simply skewed because of (1).
The Obama edicts were “enacted” as an advisory letter to colleges. This had the effect, under Title IX- a rather innocuously worded statute-, of forcing colleges to act as, investigator, prosecutor, judge and juries in cases of sexual assault accusations. In order to be “on the right side of caution,” this had the unfortunate effect of tipping the scales in favor of the accuser rather than an assumption of innocence on the part of the accused. It was a typical knee-jerk liberal reaction to a CDC statistic. The result was a denial of justice on campus which made a mockery of the term “justice.” As DeVos rightfully pointed out in a speech at George Mason University, it was “un-American.” This brought out the fangs and claws of the Left.
Just as they did when she allegedly “rescinded 72 policy documents for disabled students” according to headlines in the liberal press. And what were these 72 policies? Several policies rescinded were replaced with other policies (during Obama’s term) that are still in effect and untouched by this action. Several others applied to programs that no longer existed. The details matter, but details are lost in sensational headlines.
Likewise, the rescission of the “dear colleague” letter that led to the demise of due process on college campuses in sexual assault cases. Joe Biden was one of the primary movers behind that letter from Obama’s Education Department and he referred to its rescission as being done by “cultural Neanderthals” and somehow found some relevance to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. But, when the dust settled amid all the attacks on DeVos because…well, you know…she’s a Trump appointment…life goes on on college campuses.
In fact, surprisingly the move by DeVos received cautious praise from the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and USA Today- all hardly conservative outlets. Her action has received support from some academic feminists and her reasoning was echoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
In fact, those 2011 orders have not fared well in court. Students railroaded in kangaroo college administrative hearings have sued and won some lofty lawsuits against colleges. As of 2017, 69 plaintiffs have prevailed against fewer than 50 not prevailing in a real court.
Obama’s actions were textbook regulatory overreach. In the name of enforcing Title IX, it ordered thousands of universities to essentially find an accused student guilty, even if there was scant evidence. It imposed sharp limitations on cross-examination of the accuser and forced colleges to adopt “court training” techniques that tipped the scales of justice in favor of the accuser. But, what can be done with a stroke of a pen can be undone with a stroke of the pen and DeVos thankfully did just that.
Further, DeVos has said that the Department will devise new regulations and guidelines, publish them, have a period of public comment, re-examine the guidelines and make revisions before finalizing them. How radical- using the proper method to enact guidelines. The fact is that in instances of criminal sex acts, campuses are ill-prepared to handle such situations and should leave that task to those whose job it is- law enforcement.
Unfortunately, we will not see the Department of Education dismantled any time soon. The Left’s cries of DeVos’ animus towards public education are hollow since other than the bully pulpit and providing grant money to pilot programs, the expansion of charter and private schools is largely at the mercy of the states, and tax laws. The Left’s insulting depictions of DeVos picking apart the public school educational complex are just that- words, but words not even rooted in commonsense or reality. But, if she can begin the process of getting the federal government off the backs of the states, her tenure would have to be considered a conservative success. So far, she is off to a good start.
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