Study: President’s Education Proposal Redefines

Published August 1, 1999

“I believe we must change the way we invest money to support what works and to stop supporting what does not work. . . . I will send Congress a plan that for the first time holds states and school districts accountable for progress and rewards them for results.”
President Bill Clinton
1999 State of the Union address

Despite focusing on a key defect in the federal government’s K-12 education policy–the lack of academic accountability–President Clinton’s proposal for overhauling the soon-to-expire Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 fails to establish academic achievement as the goal of education reform, according to a new report from The Heritage Foundation.

The report warns that, instead of improving accountability, the administration’s plan–the Education Accountability Act of 1999–would simply encourage more bureaucratic oversight and continue funding school systems regardless of results.

“Although the President’s diagnosis of the problems facing schools and students today is accurate, the administration’s plan is the wrong remedy,” write the report’s authors, Heritage Education Policy Analyst Nina Shokraii Rees and Research Assistant Jacqueline Curnutte in Accountability 101: Why the President’s Education Proposals Won’t Make the Grade. “It will complicate and retard treatment of these problems.”

Rees and Curnutte point out that the U.S. Department of Education has reported ongoing results from only three of 60 ESEA programs, despite being required since 1993 to produce annual performance indicators for all of them. The results from the three programs raise serious questions about accountability.

Title I: After 34 years and $120 billion spent on this program for disadvantaged children, only 13 percent of low-income fourth-graders score at or above the “proficient ” level on national reading tests, compared to 40 percent of higher-income students.

Eisenhower Grants: Although $358 million in Eisenhower Grants is spent annually to train teachers in math and science, the nation’s twelfth-graders placed 19th out of 21 industrialized countries in math and last in advanced physics.

Drug-Free Schools: This program simply “mails out checks,” according to the Clinton-Gore administration’s “drug czar,” General Barry R. McCaffrey. Since its inception, it has mailed out $6 billion of them.

After searching the President’s plan for accountability, the Heritage Foundation analysts find nothing in it about raising student achievement, only an enforcement of the 1994 standards-based reforms attached to Title I funds. The administration’s plan “continues to fund school systems instead of students,” “fails to reward states that boost academic achievement,” and “encourages more bureaucratic oversight,” they conclude.

“If Washington insists on investing in the nation’s schools, then it is fair for taxpayers to expect their tax dollars to yield a positive return,” write Rees and Curnutte. For example, $10 million in drug-prevention funds should not go to buy bicycle pumps, dog bones, and toy telephones, as occurred in Michigan.

Improving education for all children cannot be achieved by mandating one-size-fits-all programs from Washington, the authors argue. It requires promoting accountability for academic performance, cutting red tape, and allowing states the freedom to innovate in return for agreed-upon results.

For more information …

The May 28 Heritage Foundation Backgrounder by Nina Shokraii Rees and Jacqueline Curnutte, “Accountability 101: Why the President’s Education Proposals Won’t Make the Grade,” is available from The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4999, phone 202/546-4400. The report also is available from the Foundation’s Web site at