I don't think the rant that's about to follow was exactly what US Congressman Mike Honda's (D-CA) office had in mind when they sent me the press release this morning about the education report he spearheaded. His communications director actually had the gall to be upbeat about it. Sorry, folks...no kudos coming from this blogger today.
First, a bit of background. Congressman Honda represents the California Congressional District that encompasses Silicon Valley. He spent 30 years as an educator and before I launch into the vitriol, I applaud his ongoing focus on education, civil rights, STEM, and the development of a 21st century economy. Good stuff, all of it. However, this report, meant to be inspiring and galvanizing, leaves me feeling even more jaded and pessimistic about the future of education in this country.
To be clear, the actual text of the report isn't available yet. It's being presented to Secretary of Education Duncan later today. However, the materials coming out of Congressman's Honda's office, including the forward to the report, do nothing to suggest that our government has any ability to affect real change in our educational system. Five years ago, Congressman Honda introduced legislation to form the Citizens' Commission on Educational Equity "to convene a commission to examine and propose solutions to the inequalities and present in the public education system". Oooh, good idea...let's form a commission to propose some solutions.
Apparently the vast array of really thoughtful, workable solutions flowing out of educators, businesses, analysts, and policymakers for the previous 30 years (and in earnest, focusing on 21st century learning for the previous 10) weren't good enough. One would have thought a few interns could have done a meta analysis of the existing body of work on this topic, but, gosh, a "Commission" just sounds so official. Yeah, we should definitely have another one of those. Not that it mattered since the legislation failed anyway.
Of course, it wasn't until the end of 2009 that Congressman Honda was able to form an advisory committee to "discuss the formation, direction, and charge of the commission that was to be formed". Because an advisory committee thinking about how a commission should work will definitely fix the mess that is public education in the US. In a brilliant example of how things get done in Congress, Congressman Honda managed to get funds appropriated for the Commission when he served on the (shocker!) House Appropriations Committee. Again, this isn't a criticism of Congressman Honda specifically. It's just one more indication of a broken system in Washington that certainly doesn't have the means or wherewithal to fix a broken educational system.
Ultimately, the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Education funded the Commission to the tune of $200,000 in FY2011 and $500,000 in FY2012. Relatively speaking, this is loose change that can be found in the seat cushions of the House and Senate. When you're trillions of dollars in debt, less than three-quarters of million dollars isn't worth batting an eyelash, right? Mitt Romney paid well over twice that in taxes in 2011.
Then again, that meta analysis I mentioned earlier would have been free and probably would have come to the same conclusions. Before we get to the conclusions, though, let's see what $700,000 bought us, shall we? According to Congressman Honda's office, for the low, low price of $700k, we got
- "Six town hall meetings across the nation to hear from students, parents, teachers, and local community members on their experience with the public education system"
- "Six [Commission] meetings to hear expert testimonies and engage in discussion and deliberation around the issues"
Wow. Twelve whole meetings. And they talked to actual people in six of them! And experts in six more! Actual experts!