The Washington Times
October 10, 2006

Washington Times Op-ed—Federalization is the Wrong Answer

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

In this era of globalization, the education debate has taken on new urgency. How are we going to compete globally if our public schools continue to produce poor quality students?

This sentiment has been on the mind of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who declared last year that American high schools are obsolete. ABC’s John Stossel showed how the public school monopoly delivers a low quality of education, especially at the high school level, in a provocatively titled report, “Stupid in America,” that aired this summer.

This is a serious problem, but what is to be done about education?

At the moment, one strategy is to expand community colleges and adult education centers so people can learn the skills they need to compete. These are skills that should have been learned in high school, but students did not acquire them. It is good that people eventually acquire the necessary skills, but this is incredibly wasteful and inefficient because taxpayers should not have to pay for remedial education.

The problems in public schools have been well-documented and various solutions have been proposed. One is to adopt a voucher system, which is the idea presented by Mr. Stossel, in which the money would be directed to the student, and parents could choose the school. Schools providing the best education would attract more students, and every school would have an incentive to give children the best education possible.

Other parents have opted out of the public system and have chosen to educate their children at home. Homeschooling is growing rapidly and homeschooled children are outperforming their public-school peers on standardized achievement tests. Proponents of school choice and homeschooling both believe in local control and competition to improve education but, unfortunately, powerful special interest groups successfully oppose these ideas.

To address these education problems, William Bennett and Rod Paige, former secretaries of education, recently argued in The Washington Post that the federal government should develop a national test to measure the progress of children. Taking away local control and setting federal standards is not a new idea, but it is one that was rejected by our country’s Founding Fathers. The Constitution grants no authority to the federal government to regulate education. Education policy is reserved to the states by the 10th Amendment.

Another problem with creating a federal test is that it may lead to a national curriculum. How do we expect students to be fairly evaluated if they are not taught the subject matter contained in the federal test? As the federal test becomes a feature of the educational landscape, the Department of Education could impose more and more regulations, and American education could be effectively nationalized.

Centralizing education is the opposite of sound policy for this globalized era when innovation and flexibility are demanded. Of course, students need to have basic skills, and this is where localities and states must be allowed to innovate with their own programs.

Parents are in the best position to educate children, but if education policy is shifted to Washington, it will be nearly impossible for parents to have any direct effect on what their children are taught. It is much easier to make policy changes at the state and local level.

The answer to our education problems lies in more parental choice, not more government programs. At HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association), we advocate that parents teach their own children at home. The research shows that the closer an education method resembles a home school, the better the results.

Moving the federal government into the role of educator in chief has no chance of improving the education standards of the nation’s children. Our overall education policy has to change if we want our children to be literate and self-sufficient when they graduate from high school.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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