Opinion | Morgan Liddick: As education spending rises, standards fall to the wayside
On Your Right
As the school year grinds to a close, a question: which of the following American government final exams would you rather take, based on these representative questions?
Test one: “Question 12: Which of these colonial American documents outlines the “inalienable rights” of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’? a), ‘Common Sense;’ b), The Declaration of Independence; c), The Constitution; d), The ‘Federalist Papers.’”
Test two: “Question 32: Choose one. To obey laws and pay taxes are two examples of a citizen’s a), life; b), service; c), duties. Question 38: Choose one. State, Local and Income taxes provide us with a), food; b), clothing; c), services.”
Test three: “Questions 20-29: Give the names of the Justices of the Supreme Court.
Questions 30-51: Tell the provisions of each of the Amendments to the Constitution.
Question 84: The President can make a treaty IF __________.”
Test four: “Question 7. In the election of President and Vice-President, how many electoral votes are allowed each state?
Question 8. Name three powers given Congress by the Constitution, and two powers denied to Congress by it.”
The first two examples are a 2015 College Board SAT practice test and a 2015 10th-grade American government test constructed around a “Common Core” curriculum. Three and four are from final exams in 8th-grade civics, circa 1954 and 1915 respectively.
Note that three tests deal with factual information. Note that tests three and four are more demanding although intended for younger students, and they require written responses; perhaps penmanship was better in earlier days. But what’s behind the decline in rigor?
Not insufficient spending. In 2011, nationwide average per pupil spending on education was, according to a study by Princeton University, quadruple the inflation-adjusted amount we spent in the 1949-50 school year. The rise was due mostly to increases in teacher salaries, declining class sizes and “an expansion in services offered by schools.” There has also been an ongoing shift in funding sources, from local to state and federal.
Not “relevance.” Current politics shows that the background necessary to grasp discussions on Constitutional authority and limits for executive and legislative actions or the clash between religious protections and individual rights was provided in earlier courses but may be lacking in current instruction. This has left younger voters without tools to test the truthfulness of those who would control us, and without a historical background that would allow them to assess the probability that our would-be rulers’ plans would succeed. A poisonous situation for a self-governing Republic, but full of possibilities for its leaders.
Not a lack of “innovation.” Nearly every year we are presented with “new” and unique pedagogy, certain to improve learning and retention. We are offered new standards, new measurements, new curriculums. Results are seldom forthcoming, so we do it all over again. In the name of our children and the future of our country, this must stop.
First we must admit failure, the first step in improvement. Then, we must embrace radical change. Begin by closing the Department of Education – or at least reduce its funding to that of the Department of State and use it as a clearinghouse to exchange information among the states. There is no reason to give Washington money simply so they may return it to us, minus the slice taken to maintain a Federal bureaucracy neither mentioned in the Constitution, nor by the evidence effective in its task, nor salubrious for those it purports to serve. Do the same in the states – although decentralization there could take whatever shape its citizens choose, freed from constraints imposed by Federal funding.
Strip school systems of all non-educational functions. If a government wants feeding centers for the indigent let that government’s citizens fund, and that government’s administrators, run them. Perhaps they can lease space at schools to do this. But do not burden educators with a task that properly falls to parents.
We know that education in both academic and technical forms is vital to the well-being of our economy and central to our children’s future. So make competition among districts, not mandates from above, the standard by which education is judged. Those which educate well and provide students skills to compete in the world of tomorrow will have no dearth of parents and students willing to sacrifice to attend their schools. Those which pursue failed agendas and techniques will wither and die, or they will imitate the successful and thrive. Competition and hard work are important components of success in today’s world, and there is no reason education should be immune to this truth. On the contrary, by practicing it students would learn this valuable lesson early, thereby escaping a dreary existence in their parents’ basements.
Perhaps we can even bring back penmanship.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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