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Failed Education Reform

Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan (Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock)

Surprise, surprise. From the Washington Post:

One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.

Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.

The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division on Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door.

“We’re talking about millions of kids who are assigned to these failing schools, and we just spent several billion dollars promising them things were going to get better,” said Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has long been skeptical that the Obama administration’s strategy would work. “Think of what all that money could have been spent on instead.”

They spent $7 billion, in fact. One of the most enduring shibboleths of education reform is that throwing money at the problem will fix it. A closely related shibboleth is that it can be fixed by fiddling with the method. While these might produce improvements at the margins, no serious reform can happen if kids are raised in chaotic families that do not value education. We can’t fix families, so we pretend that’s not the problem.

Lots of people are angry at the incoming Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, saying that her past advocacy of school choice and voucher programs will destroy the public school system if she tries to implement them nationally. Well, what we’ve been doing is not working. Why not try something different?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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