Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rick Perry Was...Um...Uh..Right: Get Rid of the U. S. Department of Education

IF YOU SAW RICK PERRY'S MOST RECENT DEBATE PERFORMANCE you know it was... um...not marked by...uh...Let me think. Give me a second. Oops.

I think the word I'm looking for is "coherence."

At the time, Mr. Perry was outlining the steps he'd take if elected president and trying to list three federal departments he'd eliminate. One was Commerce. Another was Education. The third was... uh...well... maybe Baking?

Still, the Governor was onto something. I'm a retired teacher and the chances I'd vote for Perry are as slim as a New York City fashion model. That doesn't mean I wouldn't be thrilled to see President Perry, if he should win, close down the U. S. Department of Education. I doubt many teachers would mourn its passing, or notice, unless someone announced it over the PA system at their school and gave them the news. 

Like I say:  I can't see a scenario where I end up voting for the Texas Hair Model. But if he does get to the Oval Office I hope one of his first acts is to issue an executive order that sends Arne Duncan, that insufferable ass, right back into the classroom in the lowest performing school in the US of A. 

I'd like to see Arne do a little teaching. 

Really, what does the Department of Education do?  (Its budget for 2011 was estimated to be $71 billion and employees numbered  more than 5,000.) I'm going to say this for sure:  I taught 33 years, and never saw a hint of evidence that what the Department was doing was helping teachers or in any way helping students.

So let's see if we can't cut a few dollars from the federal deficit. On this Tea Party folks and Real Teachers can unite. According to Friday's New York Times, even the Department of Agriculture is cutting back these days. Dozens of reports are being scrapped this year. So we're not going to have the annual goat census (it was 3,000,000 in 2010). 

The catfish census (177,000,000) is out and we're going to have to do without a report that calculates the value of honey sales by North Dakota bee keepers ($70 million). 

We won't know any more which state is #1 in sales of mink pelts (Wisconsin) and we won't have a clue which state (Texas!) shipped the most flats of pansies.

Maybe we don't need the Department of Education.
Maybe we need to get all bureaucrats and education refomers into the classroom.
Then let them work their magic!

Young teachers might not recall:  but the U. S. Department of Education was created in 1979, under President Jimmy Carter, and then turned over to control of Shirley Hufstedler, who you might guess had an extensive background in education.

No! If you guessed that, you'd be a total doofus! That would have made sense. Ms. Hufstedler was a former federal judge.

It was the start of a tradition, where seven out of nine people who ran (or run) the Department never taught a day in their and another taught only phys. ed., and so routinely failed to understand the challenges in a real classroom. So what did we gain? Well, the people at Education churned out all kinds of reports. They tabulated and measured. They put together cool charts and graphs, issued all sorts of regulations, and multiplied the paperwork speech therapists and special education teachers and just about everyone else had to complete.

(If Secretary Duncan and leading reformers have their way teachers are soon going to have to fill out a whole lot more forms and we're going to bury U. S. education in useless statistics.)

Then in 2002, the Big Wigs at the Department of Education began focusing on implementation of No Child Left Behind. They talked a great game:  helping states write new standards, then national standards when state standards yielded less-than-zero results. Mr. Duncan almost guaranteed success and called for a "Race to the Top" program, a bold new plan to improve America's public schools.

If you think it's a mess now, wait until the avalanche of "value added" charts and graphs hits schools and bureaucrats set about trying to measure everything every teacher does, has done, or ever might think about doing, from the first grade art teacher (number of brush strokes per child), on up to the middle school speech therapist (correct syllables spoken), to the high school band director (notes played per minute).

It's going to be the I.R.S. model for education.

WE'VE SPENT BILLIONS OF DOLLARS on this effort--and about all we've got to show for it is more frustration for the good teachers, who are always swamped trying to do their jobs.

Don't get me wrong:  We need to do more to weed out bad teachers. And once we do I say we fill those empty spots at the front of the classroom with the likes of Duncan and Michelle Rhee, with Wendy Kopp of Teach for America (let that lady TEACH!), Joel I. Klein, self-appointed saviour of the New York City Schools, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who says the key is grading schools), Steven Brill (who wrote a book fixing schools) and Davis Guggenheim (producer of Waiting for "Superman") to name just a few.

We don't need to wait for Superman. We've got Rhee and Kopp and Brill, sitting on the bench, telling real teachers what to do, just waiting for the chance to get in the game and save the day. say we do without the goat census and close down the Department of Education. And for god sakes, make these experts TEACH.


  1. FYI- the state of Ohio notified my charter school (in Over-The-Rhine) that we were going to be given some funding for teacher performance incentives. They sent our school $1.02 to be divided between all the staff members. They also asked for specific documentation of how the money would be used. I'm sure they paid an accountant quite a few pesos to figure out that we were owed $1.02. Common sense at its finest!

  2. Not sure what that department's function is, except to try to break unions and dismantle "government schools." Also a jobs program, I suppose.