By Dan Weber, President of AMAC
Have we lost sight of the purpose of America’s education system? It is supposed to be focused on providing the nation’s next generations with the knowledge, moral values and skillsets they need to be responsible and productive citizens. However, federal over-regulation has created an intrusive atmosphere in our schools that stifles progress.
Education consultant and activist, John Danielson, points out that schooling is a local matter. Danielson has served as senior advisor to one US Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, and Chief of Staff to another, Rod Paige.
“The Founding Fathers were prescient and wise by avoiding even a reference to public education in the US Constitution. The education of our children is most effective when determined locally, by parents and the communities who know them best. It follows then that the freedom for teachers to innovate, imagine and determine what paths are the most appropriate for the individual needs of each student belong in the classroom. In recent decades, the long-arm of federal intrusion into every area of education has exceeded what most agree is the rightful role for government in the classroom,” according to Danielson.
But we live in a new era now and it’s time for a course correction. And it appears that Senator Lamar Alexander [R-TN], Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee [HELP], is actively seeking to make the changes that are needed.
Danielson points out “Alexander, in particular, knows that the benefits of deregulation include giving teachers more choices in using classroom time to meet the needs of each student, the flexibility to determine the best educational tools to deploy on behalf of their classes, and the freedom to exercise the expertise reflected in their profession. When teachers are allowed to devote their precious classroom time teaching students, rather than responding to the demands of over-regulation which sap time and energy from the task at hand, our children are the beneficiaries.”
Last year, under Alexander’s leadership, Congress passed a reauthorized Elementary Secondary Education Act with overwhelming bi-partisan support. The primary thesis of the Every Child Succeeds Act is that federal infringement does not belong in education, that local schools can decide what is best for their students, and the law restored the proper balance in American education. And Alexander appears set to do it again with a new bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
He says that passage of the Higher Education legislation in the Senate could come within the next several months. Bipartisan negotiations are already under way and the ranking member of the HELP Committee, Patty Murray [D-WA] says she looks forward to working with Senator Alexander to get the job done.
The aim of the new Higher Education Act is to cut the red tape so that students can have easier, more affordable access to financial aid. It is also focused on giving administrators greater flexibility in the task of teaching.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has signaled her support for scrapping the old law to reduce the regulatory burden on our institutions of higher learning. As she put it: “For me, and I suspect for most Americans, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to simply amend a 50-year-old law. Adding to a half-century patchwork will not lead to meaningful reform. Real change is needed.”
DeVos was confirmed in February 2017. She’s for school choice and believes that charter schools have a place in education, whether they are nonprofit or for profit. Her focus has been on the need to undo restrictive regulations that hamper student ability to learn in our schools from K-12 to colleges and universities.
We are proud of the accomplishments the United States has achieved over the past 242 years since our founding. American ingenuity, creativity and initiative are qualities that define us and that make us a beacon for the world. If we are to maintain our undisputed reputation as the role model of nations, we need an educated citizenry.
Dan Weber is president of AMAC, the 1.3 million-member Association of Mature American Citizens