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Title I: Not making the grade

By Dr. Samuel L. Blumenfeld

If any proof is needed that federal education programs don't work, and in fact make things worse, all one has to do is look at the sorry record that Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 has produced. Title I was supposed to provide "compensatory education" for the economically and socially deprived -- the minorities and the poor, but mainly the minority poor. Its goal was to help the inner-city poor reach the same academic level of achievement as those living in affluent suburbs. After an expenditure of over $118 billion during the last 30 years, the achievement gap between those who were supposed to be helped by Title I and everyone else is as great as ever. Why? Because Title I never addressed the problem of faulty reading instruction in the schools. Why? Because if children were taught to read by intensive, systematic phonics, there would be no need for Title I!

Believe it or not, most of the $118 billion was used to hire more than 50,000 local Title I directors, plus thousands of school aides and teacher assistants. In fact, more than 132,000 classroom positions have been paid for by the billions put into the program. This is an example of how throwing money at a problem produces even more failure, because now 132,000 jobs are at stake, and the only way to keep those jobs alive is to keep producing enough learning disabled students to fill the Title I classrooms, and whole-language instruction does the job.

Earlier this year the Boston Globe interviewed Jerome T. Murphy, dean of Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, who helped write Title I legislation in 1965. In response to Title I's failure, he said, "It's a classic situation where yesterday's reform becomes today's obstacle." But we doubt that Dean Murphy would want to get government out of the education reform business. The report states that Title I "was created to help students overcome inherent barriers that poverty poses to academic achievement."

Millions of impoverished people were able to achieve academic excellence in this country throughout our history. Marva Collins, with her private school in Chicago, has proven that there are no inherent barriers to academic achievement in poverty. In fact, poverty is a strong incentive to achieve academically, since such achievement is the surest road out of poverty.

Of course, the Congress has no intention of eliminating Title I or the rest of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Once a federal river of cash flow has been opened for the education establishment, the latter has enough clout not only to keep it open, but to increase its flow. This was seen last week when the House voted 358-67 not only to renew Title I, but to increase the funding from $7.7 billion last year to nearly $10 billion.

"Now, we are beginning to fix the programs," said Education and Workforce Committee Chairman William F. Goodling, after the bill passed. Goodling, it should be noted is a Republican. If he really thinks throwing more money at the education establishment is going to fix anything, he is either stupid or a hypocrite. Do you wonder why conservative voters have lost confidence in Republican legislators? None of them -- with the possible exception of Ron Paul -- has the courage to stand up and say that it is government's intrusion into education that has led to our literacy disaster.

The government should get out of the education business, for it has created a stranglehold monopoly that gives the American people the worst possible education at the highest possible price. Over $118 billion has been squandered on so-called compensatory education that has been a total bust as education, and there is no public outrage. Why? Because too many people in America have become as dishonest and hypocritical as their government. Or maybe they believe that with such good people as Bill Goodling in charge, Congress must know what it's doing.

In an attempt to put a conservative spin on the $10 billion authorized for Title I, House Majority Leader Dick Armey proposed that $100 million of that $10,000 million be used to fund vouchers that students in failing schools could use to attend private schools. That amendment was defeated by 257 to 166, with 52 Republicans joining 204 Democrats and one independent in opposing vouchers. Not that conservatives necessarily think that government vouchers are a good idea. The opposition to vouchers by conservatives is, however, for different reasons than given by those who opposed the Armey amendment. Conservatives are concerned that government vouchers would simply bring government control into the private sector, and they want to get government out of education, not more deeply into it.

Conservatives in Congress are forced by political pressures to do the wrong thing. If conservatives in Congress cannot vote to get the government out of the education business, then they have no business calling themselves conservatives. Or maybe we are using the wrong terms. Maybe to them "conservative" means conserving the present governmental status quo. What we need in Congress are constitutional radicals who want our government to return to basic Constitutional principles. The simple truth is that you are a radical if you want your government to adhere to the Constitution of the United States.

The word radical comes from the Latin word "radix," meaning roots. My Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, 1988, gives the first definition of radical as "of or from the root or roots; going to the foundation or source of something; fundamental; basic." That's not what our so-called conservative Congressmen are about. There are among them, undoubtedly, a few who truly want the government to adhere to Constitutional principles. They are true radicals. But they are a small number, and their "moderate" colleagues can always side with socialist Democrats to frustrate radical Republicans.

It is obvious that the politically correct who control vocabulary change have corrupted our language to such an extent that we really cannot use words properly without being misunderstood. This is particularly the case in politics. Today's liberals are really socialists. Today's moderates are liberals. Today's conservatives are really statists who want to maintain the present status quo. If you are a right-wing radical, or Constitutional fundamentalist, you are called an extremist. And the American people are kept in check more by the use of words than by the use of force.

Meanwhile, the Senate is planning to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in a single bill next year, undoubtedly with more money for Title I. We hear that a new federal preschool program is also in the works. Wait till the federal government gets its molesting hands on the preschoolers. You can be sure that the 10 million students now in Title I programs will be doubled.

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