On July 19th, House Republicans, sans Democratic support, passed a bill to overhaul America’s education system and repeal No Child Left Behind. I applaud their interest in education policy and willingness to address NCLB, but the Student Success Act, as it is called, misses the mark. It is predicated on the belief that the federal government is what’s causing the problems in America’s schools, and that removing it will be the remedy. But this view is at odds with reality.
For starters, federal spending on education is minuscule: 1.7 percent of the total budget overall, according to the New America Foundation. The Department of Education has, by far, the fewest number of employees of any cabinet level agency.
The real problem with the U.S. education system is the wild inequality between rich and poor school districts. For a brutal case study, one needs to look no further than southeast Michigan.
Drive 20 minutes west of Ypsilanti and you will find Saline, one of the most successful school districts in the state. It boasts ACT scores in the 70th percentile, an equestrian team and the highest AP test pass rate in the state. The average household income is $60,000.
But instead go 20 minutes east, and you’ll be in Detroit. There, students are condemned to a terrible education system, their only crime being born in the 313 area code. Graduation rates and test scores are abysmal, most schools lack art departments or functioning websites, and the illiteracy rate is 47 percent. The average household income is $25,000.
One would be hard pressed to make the argument that federal aid is to blame for Detroit’s failure or an impediment to Saline’s success.
In refreshing contrast, President Obama has put forward the Common Core, a set of uniform standards for English and math for all schools measure up against. There were created with the help of teachers and parents, drawing upon research and international benchmarks, and they are supported by both the Chamber of Commerce and unions.
As evidence of this bipartisan support, the conservative Fordham Institute has lauded the new standards. In a 50-state analysis, it gave Michigan’s current academic standards a “D” for being vague and unclear and for lacking rigor. By contrast, they gave the Common Core a “B ” on the same metric.
States need not fear federal coercion, as adoption of the standards is voluntary and they won’t be punished for non-compliance. In fact, the National Governors’ Association helped write the standards.
Furthermore, the standards are not rigid curriculum, but rather benchmarks to ensure that all students are learning and help schools identify areas of improvement. Schools will still have control over how to best teach material to students, and may also determine content above and beyond the standards.
In a moment of insight, President George Bush once warned against succumbing to the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” I agree.
Education has been said to be the “great equalizer” in American society. But this cannot be true when the schools themselves are held to unequal standards. A child’s future should be determined by their ability, not their zip code.
Nino Monea is Student Body Vice President. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of EMU Student Government and The Eastern Echo.
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