The Department of Education. The department was created in 1980 for the express purpose of improving U.S. students’ academic performance. Since then, per pupil K-12 spending has increased (in constant dollars) from approximately $6,000 annually to $12,500. Hundreds of billions have been spent by the department since 1980, yet the scores for the nation’s 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — called “the nation’s report card” — have remained unchanged, and U.S performance is slipping relative to other nations. What difference, at this point, does the Department of Education make?

The Stimulus. The Obama administration promised that if Congress passed the $814,000,000,000 stimulus, unemployment today would be 5.2 percent. It’s now 7.8 percent, and as noted by James Pethokoukis, had millions not dropped out of the job market the unemployment rate today would be 10.7 percent — nearly three points higher than when the stimulus was passed. What difference, at this point, did the stimulus make.

Head Start. The program was created in 1965 to, among other things, improve the cognitive performance of poor kids. Hundreds of billions have been spent on the program, but recent studies show it does nothing for the cognitive abilities of kids enrolled in the program, with any transient benefits disappearing by the time the kids reach third grade. What difference, at this point, does Head Start make?