The available data prove the federal government’s involvement in the education of America’s children has not substantially improved student achievement. That’s not news to many parents who see their children flounder year after year in public schools or to those of us who watch our nation consistently fall further behind other developed nations on international testing.
In New York City, the negative effects of “fed ed,” however, go far beyond mediocre (at best) academic scores. A new study of NYC public schools shows the Obama administration’s pressures to enact “discipline reform” has, in fact, led to more violence and an increased number of disciplinary problems.
Bottom line: Not only has federal meddling done little, if anything, for academic achievement, it’s also made some schools less safe.
“In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, advising districts that if their school discipline policy ‘is neutral on its face—meaning that the policy itself does not mention race—and is administered in an evenhanded manner but has a disparate impact, i.e., a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race,’ they could become the subject of a federal civil rights investigation for unlawful discrimination,” Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute explains in a new report titled “School Discipline Reform and Disorder: Evidence from New York City Public Schools, 2012–16.”
Since then, as Eden chronicles, twenty-seven states have revised their laws to reduce the use of “exclusionary discipline,” and more than 50 of America’s largest school districts, serving more than 6.35 million students, have implemented the type of discipline reforms the Department of Education called for.
New York City public schools first implemented discipline reforms beginning in the 2012–13 school year under Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor, and continued through the 2015–16 school year under Mayor Bill de Blasio. School suspensions were cut in half during this period, and Eden’s analysis of the NYC School Survey of teachers and students shows during the 2015–16 reform period, “15,857 fewer suspensions were issued than in 2013–14.”
At the same time, Eden found, “A higher percentage of teachers reported that order and discipline were not maintained in their school.” More than half of nonelementary schools saw “a higher percentage of students report that their peers did not respect one another,” “a higher percentage of students reported frequent physical fighting” and “more than three times as many nonelementary schools saw a higher percentage of students report frequent drug use or gang activity” compared to the 2013–14 survey.
Disruptive peers, Eden notes, “have statistically significant negative effects on the reading and math scores of students in their class.” That’s on top of the time-wasting social and emotional learning initiatives, the disastrous Common Core State Standards and other progressive curricula the federal government shoves down the throats of schoolchildren to their own detriment and that of society.
Has the federal government ever been good at legislating education policy? A 2011 Atlantic article described how “local educators have creative ideas, but federal rules prevented them from implementing them.
“School districts are heavily restricted in terms of how they can spend taxpayer dollars and how they cannot,” author Michael Horn wrote. “There are district — or even statewide — textbook adoption processes that determine what content can and cannot enter a classroom. Principals often have limited authority to manage the school calendar or hirings in ways that would be advantageous for their school’s populations.”
How can a monstrous agency in Washington, D.C. expect to legislate one-size-fits-all regulations that meet the needs of thousands of unique districts, ranging from New York City to Midwest towns to remote Alaska and everywhere in between?
Mick Mulvaney, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, recently pointed out that national after-school programs have yet to prove their worth.
“They’re supposed to be educational programs, right?” Mulvaney said. “Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, they’re helping kids do better in school. The way we justified it was these programs are going to help these kids do better in school and get better jobs, and we can’t prove that that’s happening.”
Time reports U.S. Department of Education data shows these programs do work, and I’m not shocked the DOE would report its own programs are successful. But why would we believe DOE-sponsored after-school programs work when billions of dollars in federal spending on programs for the regular school hours have resulted in stagnant test scores and graduation rates?
We’re asked to believe that federally-run education programs are what’s best for America’s students, even to the point of putting our children in dangerous school environments. But the data shows otherwise and proves that states, local districts and parents know best when it comes to education and the well-being of our children.
[Originally Published at RealClearEducation]