A history of failure

Tom Dunn - Contributing Columnist

Thanks in large part to the articles I have written about education for seven years now, I will have friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers send me information that they think I will find relevant, or some will ask me my opinion on the latest hot button topic in education. This has, frankly, been one of the more unexpected and rewarding by-products of my efforts to inform the public about real educational issues confronting us all. Hopefully, this feedback means that I have exposed the political myths surrounding education and gotten people to thinking, which has been my goal all along.

Recently, I was sent an article that appeared in The Daily Signal, entitled “Nation’s Report Card Shows Federal Intervention Has Not Helped Students.” The Daily Signal is an American political journalism website that focuses on politics, policy, and culture and offers political commentary from a conservative perspective. The person who sent it to me noted that “this article seems to be up your alley of interest/expertise…” How true, how true.

The article, which you can read for yourself if you Google it, presents the case that federal education legislation enacted by multiple presidents from both parties since 1965 “has failed to achieve its primary goal of reducing gaps in academic outcomes between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers.”

This failure has been the consistent theme of many of the articles I have written over the years, as I have contended time and time again that political solutions are little more than pithy little catch phrases that are designed to fool the public into thinking that a viable solution to a problem has been crafted when no such thing is true.

I have to admit that even I didn’t realize that the incompetent political intrusion into public education stretches back more than five decades. If you read the article, you will see that creating cute little (meaningless) catch phrases is not a recent development in the world of politics.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Act in 1965, he did so promising, “it would bridge the gap between helplessness and hope for educationally deprived children.”

When it did no such thing, President Jimmy Carter signed the Department of Education Organization Act in 1979, which created the U.S. Department of Education while saying that “the time has passed when federal government can afford to give second-level, part-time attention to its responsibilities in American education.” That would be the same U.S. Department of Education that has as its head a political appointee who wouldn’t know a sound educational practice if it was written for her and placed delicately in her hands.

President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind, which he claimed would end the “soft bigotry of low expectations. ” Furthermore he claimed that this legislation would guarantee that all children would read at grade level, even though that is an impossible goal to achieve.

President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he said represented “the largest investment in education in our nation’s history and would ensure that American children wouldn’t be ‘out-educated’ on the international stage.”

Finally, in 2015, President Obama also signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorized President Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Act, even though no evidence existed then or exists today that it accomplished its goal of “bridging the gap between helplessness and hope.”

You’ve got to admit, though, that these presidents were geniuses when it comes to messaging. After all, who would want to “leave a child behind,” who wouldn’t want to “bridge the gap …,” who wouldn’t want “every child to succeed,” and who wants to be “out-educated?”

The problem is, not one of these laws addresses why children fail to become educated. But, boy, they sound pretty.

So why haven’t they worked?

The simple fact is you can’t solve a problem when you refuse to acknowledge the problem. When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, an extensive investigation was done and the result of that investigation revealed that the O-ring failed in cold weather. To fix the problem, NASA fixed the O-ring. To keep the next shuttle from exploding on launch, they didn’t change the fuel, they didn’t train the astronauts differently, they didn’t change the space suits, and they didn’t change the interior of the remaining shuttles. They identified the O-ring as the problem and they addressed it. Had they focused on those other issues, another shuttle would have likely been lost at launch.

The reason education legislation has failed for more than fifty years is that the people creating the legislation refuse to acknowledge the problem. So their “solutions” are no solutions at all. Every failed piece of legislation discussed in this article has ignored the impact factors outside a child’s school has on his or her life despite the evidence that shows us that those factors are THE most important variables. So, when federal laws focus only on the schools, of course they fail. Why wouldn’t they?

Yet, the beat goes on.


Tom Dunn

Contributing Columnist

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.