President Mum on What Doesn’t Work

Published March 1, 1999

While unimpressed with most proposals in President Bill Clinton’s 1999 State of the Union message, two GOP legislators–Representatives Dick Armey of Texas and Peter Hoekstra of Michigan–did find one idea they could support: Stop investing in education programs that don’t work. It was the same proposal that Hoekstra’s House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations had recommended last year, when it was blasted by Clinton’s Education Secretary, Richard Riley.

“We support your idea to begin the process of changing the way we invest in public education–by investing in students and not federal bureaucrats,” the Republican congressmen wrote to the President in a January 22 letter. Clinton had declared in his January 19 address that the nation must change the way it invests over $15 billion in public schools, “to support what works and to stop supporting what doesn’t.”

“Please send us your list of those programs–out of the hundreds that currently exist–that the administration has identified as ‘not working,'” Armey and Hoekstra asked the President.

However, neither the White House nor the Department of Education could name a single education program that the federal government should stop supporting. That may be because the Education Department, through its National Institute of Education, declared two years ago that teachers decide what’s best for children “on the basis of complicated public and private understandings, beliefs, motives and wishes,” not on the basis of scientific research.

Given the Department’s gut-based approach to decision-making, it’s not surprising that Hoekstra’s 1998 report, “Education at a Crossroads: What Works and What’s Wasted?” found little scientific evidence to prove the effectiveness of more than 760 federal education programs administered by at least 39 federal agencies. While some spending programs were questionable simply on inspection–such as closed captioning for Baywatch, Jerry Springer, and major sports programs–others, like Title I, had not been curtailed even when proven ineffective by careful studies.