Bringing Down the Poisonous Tree:  A Call to Abolish the Department of Education

Any thoughtful American must ask these questions:

  • What justification does the federal government have to be involved in education?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • What good does it accomplish?

The short answer to these questions is: none.

The better answer is that there is absolutely no justification for the federal government to be involved in education at any level, because the federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in education.  There is literally not one mention of education in the United States Constitution.

The first and most important reason the federal Department of Education should be abolished is to return the federal government to its proper constitutional scope, thereby returning educational authority to parents, families, and local communities via their local elected school boards.  Education has historically been viewed as the responsibility of families and local communities.  Family and local-level school systems such as homeschooling and private schools should be favored by families based on their acknowledgment of the family as the most appropriate authority over the education of children.  If public education is to exist, it should exist only at the local community level.

Looking beyond the complete lack of constitutional authority for the Department of Education’s existence and its usurpation of the educational authority of parents and families, there is also the glaring fact that every effort of the Department of Education has been a colossal failure.  Federal education mandates like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and now the Common Core State Standards Initiative (which the federal government has bribed the states to accept) have been hated by the vast majority of parents, teachers, and administrators.  Instead of attacking the faults of each new federal mandate and initiative piecemeal, we should target the root of the problem at its source: the existence of a federal Department of Education.

If you bring down the poisonous tree, you bring down all of its poisonous fruit as well.

The federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach to education has been proven to be ineffective, inefficient, and incredibly expensive as teachers are forced to teach to the slowest student in the classroom.  One has only to look to the continually increasing violence, illegal drugs, and dropout rates and the continually decreasing test scores and performance to see that the efforts of the federal government have been ineffective.  The Department of Education has done nothing but increase federal taxation and spending to pump money into state education systems, none of which have helped local schools.

Abolishing the Department of Education should not be regarded as a radical position.  The United States did not even have a Department of Education until 1980, and since that time educational standards have steadily declined while federal education spending has increased by 500% since its inception.

Until the year 2000, when George W. Bush ran for president on a platform of sweeping education reform that later became the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, abolishing the Department of Education was listed on the Republican Party platform at every convention.  As late as 1996, the platform read: “We will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning . . . We further urge that federal attempts to impose outcome- or performance-based education on local schools be ended.”

In contrast, a mere four years later the platform read: “Under [George W. Bush’s] leadership, the Republican Party commits itself to bold reforms in education – to make every school a place of learning and achievement for every child.  We will preserve local control of public schools, while demanding high standards and accountability for results.”

Obviously, local control of schools has not been preserved.  Local control decreases each year as increasingly authoritarian federal mandates are passed and federal initiatives meant to create national curriculum controls are incentivized.  The most recent example is the Common Core State Standards Initiative of 2010.  The newest proposed example is S. 1094, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013, which will in effect create a national school board.  If passed, S. 1094 will force implementation of the Common Core State Standards in all 50 states, and require many other new regulations including increased assessment and reporting of student data to the federal government.

This unlimited expansion of the federal government’s control over our children’s education must be stopped and reversed.  It is not radical to think we should return the federal government to a scope it held less than 35 years ago.  It is not radical to call the Republican Party to reclaim a goal it held until a decade ago.  It is not radical to call for the abolition of the federal Department of Education.

The truly radical position is the belief that the federal government has any place in the upbringing of our children.

Abolishing the Department of Education will not solve all of America’s education problems, but it’s a great place to start.  Abolishing the Department of Education can only improve our local schools by freeing them from federal regulations and curriculum control, and by increasing school choice.


written by Jillian Patterson

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