Education Secretary pounds Perry on Texas schools

The early attacks on Gov. Rick Perry come as no surprise: He’s a formidable candidate and, as such, is bound to take a beating from the administration and the MSM. At least Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had the sense to criticize Perry for something outside the unassailable fortress of his jobs record. It would have been better for Arne, though, if he had thought through his remarks a bit more. From Bloomberg:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Texas’s school system “has really struggled” under Governor Rick Perry, a Republican candidate for president, and the state’s substandard schools do a disservice to children.

“Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” Duncan said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt” airing Aug. 19- 20. “I feel very, very badly for the children there.”

“You have seen massive increases in class size,” Duncan said of the Texas public school system during Perry’s terms as governor since December 2000. “You’ve seen cutbacks in funding. It doesn’t serve the children well. It doesn’t serve the state well. It doesn’t serve the state’s economy well. And ultimately it hurts the country.”

Note the focus of Duncan’s comments: They turn on the fallacy that more money automatically means a better education. It’s an oft-repeated statistic, but it’s repeated for the simple reason that it makes the point: Since 1985, real federal spending on K-12 education has increased by 138 percent. On a per-student basis, federal spending on K-12 education has tripled since 1970. Yet, long-term measures of American students’ academic achievement have not seen similar increases.

Furthermore, Gov. Perry understands what too many governors don’t: Federal dollars for education — particularly in the case of Race to the Top — come with strings attached, even if those strings are hidden, as in the case of the “voluntary” national standards that accompanied RTTT funding (the adoption of which greatly improved the likelihood a state would score money from the federal government). Perry actually turned down federal dollars because he recognizes the role of the states, teachers and parents in education. The real question is: Who do you want to direct your child’s education? You and the teacher? Or distant, unelected bureaucrats?

Perry has made it possible for Texas to adopt some of the most rigorous standards in the country. In September 2009, Education Week even cited Texas as a leader in the adoption of college-ready standards. Perhaps Duncan feels spurned to have said what he said. It must have shocked him to encounter a politician who would actually say “no” to money for the sake of the freedom and flexibility that actually serve children’s educational needs well.