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An End to Education Reform? by Michael S. Greve

Conservatives were reluctant to trigger a public spat over education with a new administration, but their failure to offer criticism and insist on choice was a mistake.

    The education "reform" about to emerge from Congress is a perfect disaster. Conservatives such as William Bennett and Chester E. Finn Jr., who initially supported and in many ways shaped the administration’s position on education, now argue that the proposals have been so badly distorted and diluted by Congress that the administration should insist on improvement.

    That sensible advice, alas, comes too late, since the administration signaled weeks ago that it would sign absolutely any education bill. While a handful of Republican legislators continue to argue for an education tax credit that would redeem an otherwise abominable bill, the White House has shown no interest in that proposal. The chance for meaningful federal education reform has come and gone, not to return for another decade or so. All that can be done now is to learn how to prevent similar policy wrecks in the future.

    The original Bush agenda for education reform rested on school choice, in the form of a $1,500 voucher for parents of children trapped in failing schools; increased flexibility for states and local school districts, through the consolidation of a panoply of highly specific federal programs into a few block grants; and "accountability," through national and state tests. From these building blocks, one can fashion a sensible reform strategy. The key is allowing federal dollars, whether through vouchers or tax credits, to bypass what Bennett as secretary of education famously termed the "blob" —the cartel of education bureaucrats and officials (at all levels of government) that impedes any serious reform effort. Give the blob sufficient flexibility to demonstrate its incompetence; administer tests to prove the point; and, at the end of the day, let parents remove their children from failed school systems.

Click away for the complete article on The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, written by the John G. Searle Scholar, Michael S. Greve.

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