Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education, Neal P. McCluskey, Rowman & Littlefield (2007)

Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute does a fine job of tracing the history of the federal role in education, culminating in No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  There has been a huge increase in federal funding for education over the years, without higher test scores or other demonstrably positive results.  Ergo, taxpayers are not getting their money's worth.

From a political standpoint, our national leaders find it expedient to support federal funding for education as a means of evincing concern for children, etc.  The National Education Association (teachers’ union) is pleased so long as the strings on the funding are not unduly onerous, and the general public is not paying attention to the details.

When the NCLB bill (a 600-page document) was signed into law, reports McCluskey, the president who had backed it to the hilt made a telling comment.  "I haven't read it yet.  You'll be happy to hear I don't intend to." 

Maybe he should have read the bill. While fewer schools may be falling below standards now, the states set the standards and in many cases have relaxed them to avoid unfavorable results.  Far from ending the "bigotry of low expectations," NCLB may be contributing to a dumbing down of U.S. education.  Also, there have been endless complaints that NCLB is an "unfunded mandate" and more federal money is needed.

The book goes on to say the federal government lacks power to spend money for support of education (except for Washington, D.C. and Army schools) under the Constitution, wherefore the U.S. Supreme Court went astray in 1937 (in the face of FDR's court packing threat) and should reverse course.  News flash, this is not going to happen, nor do I think it should.  The Constitution authorizes Congress to "provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States," which arguably includes education, and it is traditional (and wise) to show deference for prior decisions.

McCluskey also suggests getting the "Feds" out of the classroom by political means.  This seems like a good idea, and if a school voucher system would help in building support then full speed ahead.  It might be more feasible, however, to simply cut off federal funding and restore the primacy of states and school districts.

Assessment: the analysis is philosophically sound, but the strategy for change falls short.