The Washington Times
February 9, 1999

Clinton’s education agenda flunks test

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
February 9, 1999

President Clinton included a sweeping five-point education plan in his recent State of the Nation speech. I didn’t make a mistake—Clinton’s education plan openly defies the idea that the United States is a Union of sovereign states.

For decades there has been a gradual erosion of the principle of local control of schools. Federal control has gradually increased through strings attached to various funding programs.

Even though an average school receives about 6% of its funds from the federal government, nearly 50% of the regulations imposed on the school come from Washington. If Mr. Clinton’s proposals are adopted, federal strings become chains of hardened steel.

For Mr. Clinton, this program is a double dose of “Wag the Dog.” Not only does his education policy help distract the nation from his impeachment troubles, it is a classic example of the tail wagging the dog. The pittance that local schools receive from the federal government provides no moral, legal, or constitutional basis for such demanding, pervasive control of education.

There are three questions to be addressed here about Mr. Clinton’s plan: What does he propose? What’s wrong with it? And how will it affect home schoolers?

Mr. Clinton’s proposed “Education Accountability Act” requires all states and school districts that receive federal education funds — and all do — to meet a five-point system of accountability to the federal government.

First, schools would have to end social promotion, imposing summer school as an alternative. He cites an innovative program in Chicago as the standard to be imposed.

Second, states “must turn around their worst-performing schools— or shut them down.”

Third, he would require all teachers to pass teacher exams and hold related degrees for the courses they teach.

Fourth, he would give parents more “choice” by having them receive report cards about the public schools and permitting them greater ability to choose which public school their children would attend.

Finally, he says schools must adopt “sensible discipline policies.”

Some of these ideas are sound in some contexts. But none of them could be imposed justifiably as a uniform national policy even if one only considers the proposals from an educational perspective. Of, course, all of them are illicit from a constitutional standard— but that “pesky old thing” doesn’t faze too many in Washington.

An end to social promotion is certainly a good idea. But mandatory summer school? A high percentage of first graders do not have the maturity to be in school. Some must repeat the first grade as a result. Forcing an immature child into more school in the summer is the exact opposite of what would be sound educational policy. He— normally little boys are the ones who are in this situation— should be sent home to play until he matures. Mr. Clinton wants to force-feed more school to this child. It is an approach guaranteed to teach children at a young age to hate school forever.

Mr. Clinton’s second proposal poses an interesting logical dilemma. He wants states to shut down their worst-performing schools. But some schools will always be the worst-performing. Does he really mean to say that the schools with the lowest scores will be closed no matter what? Probably not. Mr. Clinton probably wants to create a federal minimum testing standard.

But it is guaranteed that such a standard would be lower than what is needed. George Allen, as governor of Virginia, imposed tough state standards while rebuking federal attempts to control the commonwealth’s schools. And tough they are: Ninety-seven percent of the schools in the state failed to achieve the required level of performance. The feds will dilute, not help, Virginia’s efforts.

Mr. Clinton’s third prong— mandatory teacher standards — should send a strong chill down the back of every homeschooler as well as those in private schools and even those in public schools. Mr. Clinton’s proposal takes the “every teacher must have an appropriate credential” provision out of the infamous H.R. 6 of 1994 and adds teacher testing to it. He says his standards are for “all teachers.” That is the phrase contained in H.R. 6, which effectively would have banned home schooling. It is even a bad idea for public schools.

A high school history teacher who happens to be a computer whiz would not be allowed to teach the computer class because he lacks a computer-science degree. A math teacher who was a champion college debater would not be allowed to teach the debate class.

Mr. Clinton’s proposed program to limit choice in education to public schools is simply more liberal hypocrisy. So long as people had the option of using whatever program the U.S. Postal Service offered, mail and packages moved at a snail’s pace. It was Fed Ex and UPS that not only gave people true choices, but made the Postal Service better.

Finally, Mr. Clinton’s proposal for sensible discipline sounds good, but you can be certain he means something different than you mean by that phrase.

This is the man who signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans corporal punishment in every school and in every home. Juvenile jails are nearly outlawed, replaced by social programs which “mainstream” young hooligans.

What average people mean by the term “sensible discipline” is tough standards, occasional spanking, and strong parental involvement. What Clinton means— as judged by his UN treaty— is a ban on spanking, “therapeutic” programs and a big village to raise children. But, of course, this is not the first time he has adopted definitions at odds with the understanding of the rest of us.

So there you have it. A complete takeover of public schools by federal regulators and a hidden ban on home-schooling. The state of the union is threatened by Mr. Clinton’s refusal to understand that his job description— like his personal standards of behavior— was supposed to change once he stopped being the Governor of Arkansas.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

Copyright 2000 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit our web site at