The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne) (TNS)
In 1976, Jimmy Carter campaigned on a promise to create a brand-new federal Department of Education. Alas, Americans elected him anyway, and he made good on his promise.
In 1979, after much opposition, Congress narrowly passed legislation to split off an education department from the existing Department of Health, Education and Welfare. It began operations in 1980 with 6,400 employees. By 2000, it was spending $33 billion a year, by 2014 more than double that at $67.3 billion.
Be honest — isn’t the question not how much better all that money has made education, but how much worse it’s gotten despite it? Isn’t there a better way to handle education?
Yes, there is, and Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s education secretary, is in search of it. She stopped in Indianapolis last week on her six-state Rethink Schools tour to highlight ways local educators are meeting the needs of students in K-12 and higher education.
Indiana is a good stop because of its commitment to vouchers and other school choice programs, but there are myriad innovative approaches all across the nation.
“For far too many kids, this year’s first day back to school looks and feels a lot like last year’s first day back to school,” DeVos said about her tour. “And the year before that. And the generation before that. And the generation before that.
“Most students are starting a new school year that is all too familiar — desks lined up in rows, their teacher standing in front of the room framed by a blackboard. They dive into a curriculum written for the average student. They follow the same schedule, the same routine — just waiting to be saved by the bell.
“It’s a mundane malaise that dampens dreams, dims horizons and denies futures.”
By seeking innovative approaches out in the heartland, DeVos is returning to the idea the nation operated on for 200 years — education is a state and local issue, best addressed by people who know regional challenges and opportunities.
The Department of Education never should have been created. The only useful function it can possibly serve in the future is to maintain a database of education practices throughout the country so educators can find the best approaches and emulate them. If DeVos is successful in her apparent mission, she will eventually work herself right out of a job.