Andre Perry with the Brookings Institution wrote a piece for The Hechinger Report that I wanted to respond to. He responded to the news that the Trump Administration’s proposal to merge the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor.
I share his concern about the merger, but we come to entirely different conclusions. He wants to protect the U.S. Department of Education. I want to stop the merger, sure, but I’d rather end the department.
First, he said a couple of things that I agree with.
1. Government should be “rebooted.”
The notion of a governmental reboot seems fair enough. Government bureaucracies that grow over time can be anathema to innovation and efficiency. Technology has challenged the way we engage with all institutions, and the federal government could certainly improve its use of technology to better deliver services.
A leaner bureaucracy is not a bad thing. That should be something we welcome. Eliminating redundant programs are not a bad thing. I noted at Caffeinated Thoughts that there are a number of laudable things within the government reform plan. This particular merger isn’t one of them.
2. Education is more than workforce development.
Perry notes that “to collapse education and labor into a single agency” will “reduce education’s role in developing full human beings.”
He adds, “Students are more than widget makers for the economy.”
I agree and have said that a merger between the education and labor departments would institutionalize workforce development as an education model.
Children need to view themselves as full human beings, as citizens even, something a good liberal arts foundation provides. By limiting education to a workforce development function and downplaying its political, social and development roles, the conservative position that education must be in service to the workforce benefits those who are currently in power, and education leaders are aggressively converting that belief into policy.
A caveat, twice in this piece he calls this idea a conservative one. It is not.
Where Perry goes off the rails.
1. The Education Department is not too big, too important to merge with another department.
The reality is that the Departments of Education and Labor are big enough and important enough to be standalone agencies. Unschooled reductions in government and reflexive conservatism create more problems and inefficiencies than they purport to resolve.
No, it’s not. Is Perry under the presumption that education did not happen pre-1976 when President and Congress made it a stand-alone cabinet-level department? Certainly, that is not the case. What would happen should the department be eliminated altogether? Kids would still be educated.
2. Don’t make this about race.
The White House’s new effort to diminish the Department of Education comes at a time when whites have to transition to being minorities. In 2014, white students became the minority in our public schools (partly a result of white students’ overrepresentation in private schools). And a way to prevent numerical power from converting into political and economic power is to see the majority of its public students as “its,” as workers, not citizens.
This just muddies the opposition to this proposed merger. Does workforce development as an education model have negative implications for minority students? Sure, I understand that concern when there are still performance gaps between minority and white students on standardized assessments and a student’s place on the pipeline will likely be decided by assessments.
Is that the motivation behind this? No, it’s more about corporate workforce needs and the bottom line than anything else. The only color that matters in this discussion is green.
The U.S. Department of Education does not need protection.
It needs to be eliminated, and the proposed merger does not eliminate a single thing from the current department.
The fact is the idea of federal oversight in education is an unconstitutional one. The protection of civil rights is the only involvement the federal government legitimately has. Do they need a stand-alone department for that? No, this is something the U.S. Department of Justice can handle.
We sent a man to the moon before the U.S. Department of Education. Its presence has not improved K-12 education in our nation, in fact, it has done the opposite.