So Why We Need the Department of Education Anyway?
February 8, 2017 4:29 PM   Subscribe

I have unwittingly become involved in a Facebook discussion about the recent Betsy Devos confirmation and the current Republican bill to abolish the Department of Education. I personally think the two moves are terrible ideas. Please give me internet resources that explain the responsibilities and power of Dept of Education and what we stand to lose with its abolishment.

The pushback I get on the thread is that we should give Devos "a chance to succeed," and that children's education has been getting worse since the start of Dept Of Ed and it's time to let states and localities do its own things in hope things will get better.

So my answer is that 1. Devos is a rich idiot. 2. I have an vague idea that abolishing Dept of Ed is terrible because: What if Texas want to put creationism back on the curriculum? Who is going to give out Pell Grants? What's going to stop a backward county to start mandatory classes on anti-LGBT propaganda?

However I realize I don't actually understand the nitty-gritty of what Dept of Education do, how it interact with the states, the schools, what are its powers, etc.

Are there relatively succinct Internet sources about the responsibilities of Dept of Education and what we stand to lose if it were abolished?

Bonus question:

Why do reasonable people think abolishing the department is ever a good idea? The hand-wavy explanation that federal centralization only leads to bloated bureaucracy and waste and that individual states can do better, doesn't sound convincing me, perhaps due to my liberal biases. However I am interested in reading rational, well-thought out arguments from the other side as well. So you have those links, send it my ways as well.
posted by Pantalaimon to Education (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yesterday I read a comment on reddit that addressed your questions. Good info in the whole thread.
posted by chaoticgood at 4:55 PM on February 8, 2017 [12 favorites]

To that end, Wikipedia (and its citations) are a totally decent starting point, especially wrt the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Title IX.

DOE also owns a lot of student loan debt, and administers programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. PSLF is a special worry because many student loan debt holders (myself included) have arranged their repayments to qualify for programs like these that aren't yet formally or legally solidified and can be taken away at the stroke of a pen (potentially--I suppose the courts will sort that out). So, even though I've been doing my annual due diligence to qualify for PSLF for almost a decade, as the link points out, the outgoing administration didn't finish the process:

Will I automatically receive PSLF after I’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments?

No. After you make your 120th qualifying monthly payment, you will need to submit the PSLF application to receive loan forgiveness. The application is under development and will be available prior to October 2017, the date when the first borrowers will become eligible for PSLF. You must be working for a qualified public service organization at the time you submit the application for forgiveness and at the time the remaining balance on your loan is forgiven.

I've archived that PSLF page several times over the years, because who knows what's going to happen to it post-DeVos (since she's invested in debt collection agencies in the past, among other ethical quagmires).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:12 PM on February 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Like chaoticgood's link says, the DoE has a civil rights arm (Office of Civil Rights, commonly abbreviated OCR) that has a broad mandate to ensure that all students can access public education. OCR makes sure that disabled kids aren't siloed or disciplined out of school, that girls have access to sports and athletics, that colleges and universities respond adequately to rape on campus, that students can learn English at school, and that students are not disciplined out of school based on their race and not their behavior.

Schools will not do any of that shit out of the goodness of their hearts. They will turn away kids with disabilities. They will let non-native English speakers and dyslexic kids alike drop out after years of malicious neglect. They will suspend black children at astronomical rates. This might sound like it pales in comparison, but I swear to God every high school in the South will field a boys' football team and nothing else.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:38 PM on February 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

A lot of what ED does is data collection and research that can't easily (or cheaply) be replicated from the ground up in such a highly-decentralised educational system. Abolish the department, and that data probably just goes away.

One rationale for federal oversight is that people move. Moving schools is stressful enough, but if a child moves from (say) Colorado to North Carolina, there's a basic assumption that it shouldn't be like moving from Chile to Costa Rica. The ED can't dictate what's taught, but it can run the numbers on comparative achievement based upon large statistical populations.
posted by holgate at 5:59 PM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

We should be very clear that education levels have not been getting worse over time.
posted by idb at 7:17 PM on February 8, 2017

Best answer: Current Affairs, Why is 'the decimation of public schools' a bad thing? This doesn't go into the nitty-gritty details of what the Department of Education does, but it's a good rebuttal to the idea that "federal centralization only leads to bloated bureaucracy and waste".
posted by spaet at 7:26 PM on February 8, 2017

The data says education is not getting worse. More.

I feel that I must caution you: Don't bring facts to a truthiness fight.

My opinion is that profitizing public education will make education far worse and not better. Charter schools often can be picky about which kids they take. What happens is that they take kids with stable home lives and involved parents and then celebrate about how great their scores are, while kicking the troublesome kids back to public school, artificially lowering public school scores. That becomes a vicious cycle where parents in a better socioeconomic situation won't send their kids to public schools because of low scores, making those scores worse, and so on. Heads, I win, tails, you lose. It's more "evidence" of how public schools don't "work."
posted by cnc at 7:48 PM on February 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Why do we need a department of anything? How much money is given out by the federal government to every school at every level in our nation? Should the granter of such huge sums of money have no say so, no check, no control in who gets what and how that is used?
posted by Postroad at 6:45 AM on February 9, 2017

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