The Need for High DL Standards Will Raise Standards Across America

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

American Education is controlled by a strong belief that local control is essential. The legislative authority is vested in state and not federal governments. The federal government does not mandate that state and local communities have a school system. It simply mandates that if there is a school system all children must be free to attend that system.

After the Civil War, the Supreme Court allowed segregated school systems in the South. They were supposed to be separate but equal, but they were not. There were some schools for Afro-American students that were excellent, but the majority were poor with poorly qualified teachers and often either no or outdated textbooks. In 1954, the Supreme Court in Brown vs. the Board of Edcuation ruled against segregated schools. They did not say that a community or state had to have schools; they did, however, say that if they did, all children must be eligible to attend.

Collage. Top: May 17, 1954  Topeka State Journal, with  'School Segregation Banned' across the page - text description: http://bit.ly/topeka-brown. Bottom: quotes from the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, available at http://bit.ly/brown-ruling .

There is a strong belief that local control is the most important aspect of American public schools. However, some communities have larger tax bases and therefore can afford better schools. To offset this inequality, states provide funds to equalize costs among local school districts. However, this does not completely equalize funding across states so the federal government provides compensatory funds. However, even this does not equalize costs. Some states have a significantly larger tax base and consequently a higher per pupil expenditure.

States set the standards for teachers and certify them as qualified teachers. There are other agencies that may set professional standards. For example, the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association provides a rather rigorous clinical certification process. There is also a National Teachers Certification system. However, no school or state is required to abide by these certifications.

There are volunteer subject matter standards, but no state mandates them.

What then does the United States Department of Education do? It mandates that if a state or community has a school then all children regardless of race, disability, poverty or religion are entitled to a free and appropriate education. All states do mandate education, which means that public schools, private schools, charter schools and home schooling must receive approval by the state. The USDE can establish some guidelines and rules if school districts accept federal funds. Different professional organizations can create and do create standards, but states are free to reject or accept them. Some states have mandated that creationism be taught rather than evolution. States often control the textbooks used in schools.

The Education of the Handicapped Act is the only federal law that mandates that the federal government share the costs with state and local government for each child served. All other federal programs are supplemental. Unfortunately, neither the Congress nor any Administration has ever fully funded the handicapped law.

Conservatives are fiercely opposed to any hint that the federal government would somehow control content because they see it as big government controlling education.

At the college level, the USA in the late 1800s created the land grant college program, which enabled every state to develop high quality post secondary education systems.

The federal government has acted from time to time to redress inequalities in education. After World War I the federal government provided funds for vocational education to redress the poor schools in rural areas. After WW II the inner cities needed funds to revive their decaying schools. The USDE also provides research funds and has supported the development of a wide range of educational objectives over the years.

However, the USDE remains committed to allowing local and state departments the ultimate control. In effect a community or state does not have to support education, but if it does all children must have an opportunity within the system. After the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, some Southern communities actually chose to close their schools rather than allow Afro-American students to attend. Today most states allow home schooling to take place under state or local supervision.

There is a movement to create national standards. However, issues such as creationism and evolution as well as the pro- and anti-climate warming advocates will probably block any adoption of national science standards.

I believe that high quality distant learning programs will force a higher standard across America and the world. In addition to USDE at the federal level, the the National Science Foundation, the Department of Commerce, NASA and other agencies may provide research and development funds for education.

3 Responses

  1. In 2008 New York State had a per pupil expenditure of just under $20,000 and Utah has an expenditure of just under $7000. While money is not the sole factor of excellence it is an important one.

  2. Thank you for this description of education funding and standards in the US, Frank. Switzerland, also being a federal state where education is of cantonal competence, has similar oddities in that (see Switzerland’s education system on the site of our federal “State Secretariat for Education and Research”) . However, our cantonal “matriculation” (end of high school) exams must obey the same federal rules in all cantons, and thus give access to all higher education institutions in the country.

    I understand what you write about some States objecting to some parts of the science curriculum, making this kind of federal regulation impossible. Nevertheless, won’t the acquisition of these parts of the curriculum be assessed in the US entrance examinations for higher education anyway?

  3. Yes and No each private and public higher education college has its own entrance requirements. The requirements usually require a SAT score, academic grades, ften a written exam and other factors. Some public colleges have open enrollments which mean that if the student graduated from high school they are accepted in college.There is no age limitation for college in the USA. I recently found a 90 year old who obtained her BS and masters degrees after she was in her 90s and had been accepted in a PhD program.

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