3 Ways The Federal Government Must Guide Education

The achievement gap is a problem that every American should care about as a moral issue and an economic dilemma.

One of the flaws that sits at the foundation of our national education crisis is that the responsibility of educating America’s children lies with states. To be fair, when the framers of our country developed the Constitution, compulsory education for all kids was a century away and educating the then-slaves was illegal in over half of the country. 

Unfortunately, the lack of foresight on the importance of a national education system continues to present one of the most significant barriers to improving our country’s education. Perhaps at some point in history it was appropriate for states to educate their own citizens. However, with the emergence of globalization and a global workforce, Georgians are no longer competing for jobs against Virginians, but also against Chinese.

There are several major issues in education that could be remedied by a nationalized education system.

1. Adequate distribution of financial resources. If all public funding for education was distributed through a national system, every child in America would receive the same expenditure per pupil allowance. According to 2005-06 reports, the difference in per pupil expenditure between the highest and lowest states was nearly $10,000. Assuming that this was equalized, the average per pupil expenditure for every American child would be $9,963 per year.

2. Every child would be expected to master the same material. With the emergence of the common core standards, it is apparent that states recognize the problem with having kids in Mississippi being expected to master different material than children in New York. Eventually all of these students, regardless of where they receive their primary and secondary education, will be attempting to get into a variety of different post-secondary options. Some will be more or less prepared merely based on the curriculum their state administers.

3. Testing will actually give us points of comparison. Right now, every state administers its own test according to its own standards, which does not give us the ability to adequately measure the level of attainment of students, schools, districts, or states on a national scale. The only test that attempts to do this is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is administered at 4th, 8th, and 12th grades in math and reading to a sampling of students. While this assessment is better than nothing, it is more apt at testing which state emphasizes the material covered on the assessment than it is at giving an adequate picture of student achievement. This element also represents the fundamental flaw in No Child Left Behind legislation, which is that individual states get to determine what proficiency means for its citizens.

Regardless of the benefits of nationalizing education, it would take our failed Congress to pass a law that did this, and it is unlikely that representatives elected from states will sacrifice the antiquated perspective that education belongs to their home states. Even if Congress passed the law and the president signed off, there would certainly be a judicial challenge by several states, leaving the ultimate decision up to the U.S. Supreme Court. While this solution is a far stretch from simple, it would certainly be an initial step in putting America’s educational system on the right track. It is no coincidence that nearly every country that currently outranks the U.S. in education has a national system of compulsory education.

Photo Credit: EngComm

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Edward Williams

Edward Williams is currently a 3L at the Georgetown University Law Center. He is a 2009 Teach For America Atlanta Corps Member. He graduated from Howard University in 2009 with a BBA in International Business and Finance with honors. He has interned at JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch in their investment banking/sales and trading divisions, and was a 2010 Teach For America Policy and Advocacy Leadership (PALI) Fellow at the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, DC. Edward is originally from Savannah, GA.

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