Thursday, March 16, 2006

The federal government's role in education

Martha Zoller has a good column on limiting the federal government's role in education. Predictably, she touts vouchers as a solution to the problems of the government school system, something I vehemently disagree with. (For more, see previous writings here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

She does make a very good point, though, that the federal government has way too much power and control over local schools. Who do you think is more qualified to direct the curriculum of your local elementary, middle or high school: your local School Board or a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.?

Yes, local school boards can be arrogant and condescending. We saw this last spring when the MCCSC School Board schemed to implement a "sex survey" via a dishonest and sneaky "passive permission" system. (See my opinion column on the controversy.) The president of the MCCSC School Board actually had the audacity to rip up written objections to a massive tax increase for the local government schools.

However, Local officials are more accessible to their community than a federal bureaucracy could ever be. People who live in the MCCSC School District, for example, have the option to fire School Board members in the November elections. We don't have that option with the federal DOE.

This is why I disagree with the No Child Left behind act passed in President Bush's first term. Expanding the federal government's already-overextended reach into local schools was a bad idea. When the Republicans swept Congress in 1994, they ran on a platform of increasing local control and some even openly talked about eliminating the federal Department of Education. What happened to those conservative Republicans?

Zoller is right that it is the parents who ultimately have the responsibility of seeing that their children are educated. A growing number of families are taking their children out of the government schools and educating them at home or in private schools, bringing those children a higher quality of education than they would get in the government schools. I do not think it is a surprise that a Lighthouse Christian Academy student won the Herald-Times regional spelling bee for the second consecutive year.

Not all people feel this way. A friend of mine told me a very sad story from when he was an administrator in a government school. One "parent" came into the school building and told the teachers and administrators that his child was their responsibility during school hours and not to bother him during the school day. "Parents" like this make it difficult on everyone else, because it is the child who suffers.

The government school system, in my opinion, encourages this attitude. Many people have the opinion that they do not have to care for those in need because "that is what I pay taxes for." On the other side of the same coin, some parents feel they do not have to take an active role in making sure their child is educated because "that is what I pay taxes for." The most important education we need in this country is to educate parents that their child is their responsibility, not the responsibility of a local school board or a Washington bureaucrat.