Federalism seems a natural approach for education reform, as it might for transportation policy reform. The great majority of commutes to and from work by road or rail are within state borders, so why not have state and local government administer or regulate most roads and rail?

Similarly, nearly all trips to and from schools are within state borders, so why not have states and local governments administer or regulate schools? Why would the federal government be involved in education issues that involve families in single communities within single states?

One plausible federal role would be to address injustice. Southern states prevented minority students from attending neighborhood schools which they reserved for white children. These were democratic policies, that is policies that at the time majorities and their elected representatives favored. So the federal government stepped in and mandated schools be integrated.

Are there similar state and local education injustices today that harm minority or low-income students and could or should be addressed by federal government policy?

One justice issue, or procedure, reform calls for restorative justice in schools. The Centre for Justice and Reconciliation (a Christian Organization) advocates restitution or restorative justice reforms for the criminal justice system:

Restorative justice repairs the harm caused by crime. When victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational.

Similar restorative justice reforms are advocated for public schools. Critics point out that disciplinary actions in public schools impact minority students at higher levels than other students (see, for example, “Yes, Schools Do Discriminate Against Students Of Color — Reports,” (HuffPost, March 13, 2014). Restorative Justice in schools looks to address and repair this disparity.

When Restorative Justice in Schools Works,” (The Atlantic, December 29, 2015), explains:

In traditional school-discipline programs, students face an escalating scale of punishments for infractions that can ultimately lead to expulsion. But there is now strong research that shows pulling students out of class as punishment can hurt their long-term academic prospects. What’s more, data shows that punishments are often unequal. Nationally, more black students are suspended than white students, for example.

As a result, alternative programs like restorative justice are gaining popularity in public schools from Maine to Oregon. Early adopters of the practice report dramatic declines in school-discipline problems, as well as improved climates on campuses and even gains in student achievement.

The article notes there has been some federal involvement:

In addition to the growing body of research supporting the benefits of alternative campus discipline programs, there is now federal pressure for districts to rethink their practices: schools may face sanctions if discipline policies are found to unfairly target minority students.

(Though this “federal pressure” might no longer be current administration policy.)

​​​​​​​Is Discipline Reform Really Helping Decrease School Violence?,” (The Atlantic, June 28, 2016), reports incidents of bullying in New York City schools, and is sceptical reforms have been effective:

Schools are also turning to social-reform programs such as those that embrace the restorative-justice model, an approach that emphasizes bringing together the perpetrators and victims of misconduct through meetings and discussions.

But a lack of hard data and conflicting views on safety measures make it difficult to assess whether school violence is in fact increasing—and whether those measures are actually effective. Some observers worry that the absence of concrete information and confusion over the amount of violence in schools are hindering efforts to reduce violence and bullying.

There are disagreements on how best to measure school violence (as with other violence), in part because not all incidents are reported to authorities, and because what counts as violence varies:

At the local level, statistics on school violence can vary depending on the source. Walden pointed to state statistics showing that the number of violent episodes in New York City schools rose 23 percent from the 2013-14 school year to the one that ended in June 2015. But the New York City school administration uses police data showing that crime in the city’s schools declined 29 percent from the 2011–12 school year to the 2014–15 year. Some observers have said that the state data does not make a distinction between minor disciplinary problems in schools and more serious acts of violence and bullying. Critics also emphasize that the state data isn’t verified.

Nationally schools are safer than they were twenty years ago, and according to this scholar, “schools are much safer than the communities around them”:

“In general, schools are far safer now than they were 20 years ago,” said Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and education professor at the University of Virginia. “Every major study in recent years has shown that schools are much safer than the communities around them. Students are much more likely to be injured in restaurants than on school grounds.”

After citing data showing school violence and bullying are underreported, the article says:

While many school districts are embracing restorative justice, there’s little hard data to show the approach is effective in reducing violence. Anecdotal evidence suggests that restorative justice can reduce violence in schools through exercises like group discussions that build empathy among students, Gregory said, but she and other education researchers are quick to say that there have been few carefully designed studies to back up these claims.

So maybe the federal government could focus on funding more research on what works in addressing violence and bullying in public schools. An earlier post quoted a Brookings Institution study on the history of federal involvement in education:

For most of the nation’s history, Washington confined itself to collecting data on school systems and disseminating information on the progress of education. Until 1965, when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed, federal support for K-12 education was minimal.

Collecting information about restorative justice as an alternative to zero-tolerance and school expulsions would seem worthy information to disseminate.

See also “An Effective but Exhausting Alternative to High-School Suspensions,” (New York Times Magazine, September 7 2016).

This  2014 neaToday article, “NEA and Partners Promote Restorative Justice in Schools,” begins:

Educators cannot stand by as tens of thousands of African-American, Latino, and other students get pushed out of school for minor disciplinary infractions, said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who on Friday helped release a new toolkit that aims to end the “school-to-prison pipeline” through the use of restorative policies and practices.

The article features this chart of alternative school justice systems:


Debaters looking to reform federal education funding or regulations should know where federal education dollars flow now. “Federal Education Funding: Where Does the Money Go?,” (US News, January 14, 2016), provides a recent overview with helpful charts.

First US News notes that federal education spending “education has surged over the last decade and a half,” up over 36% since 2002, ” from $50 billion to $68 billion…”

Pell Grants provide college tuition for low-income students, are are “by far” the federal government’s biggest education expense: “fiscal 2016, the government is spending $22 billion to fund Pell Grants, twice what was spent in 2002.”

Next are grants for school districts with low-income students, and grants for special education, both of which have risen significantly:

known as Title I. Funding for the program also saw a big increase since 2002, going from $10.4 billion to $14.9 billion this year, an increase of 43 percent. 

Special education was another big winner, with funding now at $11.9 billion – an increase of nearly 60 percent since 2002.

The US News article lists other federal K-12 programs where funding has increased significantly since 2002. And starting with 2002 is useful because the last 15 years encompasses both the Republican Bush Administration and the Democratic Obama Administration, showing bipartisan support for increased federal education spending.

The Brookings Institution, a center or center-left think tank, makes the case for federal K-12 funding reform. “Why federal spending on disadvantaged students (Title I) doesn’t work,” (November 20, 2015). The study recommends increased federal funding, but also calls for reforms to guide more research to learn what works and how to better direct funds to low-income students:

Efforts to reauthorize the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) have generated contentious debates about annual testing and accountability. Both the Senate and House versions, now headed to conference, maintain annual testing and push accountability back to the states.

Curiously missing from the debates has been the evidence of whether or not ESEA achieves its objectives.

At the college level, critics of increased federal spending argue these funds have pushed college tuition higher (more on this claim below). Also, since the “Great Recession” state funding for college education has fallen while federal funding has surged.

State funding was 65% higher than federal funding from 1987 to 2012, according to “Federal and State Funding of Higher Education,” (Pew Charitable Trusts Issue Brief, July 11, 2015) but that changed:

… this difference narrowed dramatically in recent years, particularly since the Great Recession, as state spending declined and federal investments grew sharply, largely driven by increases in the Pell Grant program, a need-based financial aid program that is the biggest component of federal higher education spending. 

The study also looks at overall federal support for higher education:

Though only about 2 percent of the total federal budget, higher education programs make up a large share of federal education investments. For example, about half of the U.S. Department of Education’s budget is devoted to higher education (excluding loan programs). Higher education funding also comes from other federal agencies such as the U.S. Departments  of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation.

Impact of Pell Surge: Federal spending has overtaken state spending as the main source of public funding in higher education,” looks at the implications of increased federal spending alongside reduced state funding for higher education:

Federal and state funds have different missions. The majority of state funding is used to fund specific public institutions, whereas federal funding is generally awarded through student aid and research grants. State funding goes primarily to public institutions, while federal funding goes to students at public, private and for-profit colleges, and to researchers at public and private universities.

Critical of increased state and federal funding for higher education is economist Richard Vedder’s 2004 book, Going Broke by Degree. Vedder’s Forbes column, “Are We Still Going Broke By Degree?,” (November 1, 2016) his research:

From 1980 to 2014, by contrast, tuition fees rose sharply relative to people’s income, leading to a soaring student loan debt burden (actually, the reverse probably is more true: the availability of low interest loans induced colleges to raise tuition fees aggressively). This reflected both soaring tuition fees and a slowing of the growth in incomes, especially since 2000.

Vedder reports Census Bureau data showing that though median incomes are up significantly over the last two years, college tuitions have not risen as fast:

For two year schools, the increase was similar to four year public institutions, 1.7 percent. Yet the Census Bureau indicated that the inflation-adjusted increase in median household income in 2015 was over five percent. Income increases were accelerating, tuition hikes were declining.

Vedder then argues colleges divide into three categories he compares with cars (Mercedes/Lexus, Chevy/Toyota, and Used Cars) and looks at tuition increases and student demand for each.

See also Vedder’s “Seven Ways the Department of Education Has Made Higher Ed Worse,” (James G. Martin Center,October 28, 2015) which notes the New York Times May 22, 1979 editorial opposing federal control of education:

The idea [of the Department of Education] remains as unwise as when it was first broached in a Carter campaign promise to the National Education Association…. It has always been American policy…to deliberately avoid centralizing education in a way that requires direction and financing by a national ministry…. We believe that diversity of direction has served American education well and that it will continue to do better without a central bureaucracy, even a benign one.

New technologies have opened the door for new opportunities for getting a college education. “WHY FREE ONLINE CLASSES ARE STILL THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION,” (Wired, September 26, 2014) looks at the late, great MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses):

THE MOOC WAS The Next Big Thing—and then it was written off for dead. But for Anant Agarwal, one of the founding fathers of this online reboot of university education, it’s only just getting started. …

Online education was overhyped in the beginning:

In 2012, The New York Times hailed “the year of the MOOC,” and it seemed that not a day went by that there wasn’t a news story about how edX—and similar companies like Coursera and Udacity–were poised to radically change and democratize education. But then came the inevitable backlash. Critics pointedly accused these companies of overstating their potential.

Still, according to Wired, it may be time for MOOC 2.0:

This week, a team of researchers out of MIT, Harvard, and China’s Tsinghua University—all schools that offer MOOCs—released a study showing that students who attended a MIT physics class online learned as effectively as students who took the class in person. What’s more, the results were the same, regardless of how well the online students scored on a pre-test before taking the class.

The expansion of online education blurs the line between high school and college education. Debaters research federal K-12 programs will overlap other debaters researching federal higher education reforms.  The Wired article discusses edX:

More recently, edX found yet another application for its courses: college prep. In an effort to cut their budgets, school districts across the country have cancelled advanced placement courses, even as students increasingly look to those courses as a way to cut down on college tuition costs. EdX is now hoping to fill that gap by allowing students to take those courses online.

A previous post (Informal Schools in the U.S. and Developing World) looked at many alternatives for students to earn college credit during high school years, including Tribr in India, and more in “AP, DC, DE, IB: An A–Z Guide to College Credit in High School”:

There are lots of different programs for students eager to get started with college work — Advanced Placement (AP), dual credit (DC), dual enrollment (DE), and International Baccalaureate (IB).

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 7.08.41 AMMIT’s OpenCourseWare website is here. Federal funding is available for online education. “Federal Student Aid for Online Learning Programs,” (Peterson’s, June 21, 2016) explains:

You can access up-to-date information about federal financial aid programs at the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site, www.studentaid.ed.gov, or by calling 1-800-4-FEDAID. You’ll see that much of what is available to non-traditional students is similar, if not identical, to the resources available to traditional students.

FACT SHEET: Expanding College Access Through the Dual Enrollment Pell Experiment,” (U.S. Department of Education, May 16, 2016). One way to expand opportunities for low-income students is to let them escape the limitations of their school through dual-enrollment, earning college credit from home or school:

Dual enrollment, in which students enroll in postsecondary coursework while also enrolled in high school, is a promising approach to improve academic outcomes for students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds. Selected experimental sites are required to ensure Pell-eligible students are not responsible for any charges for postsecondary coursework after applying Pell Grants, public and institutional aid, and other sources of funding. About 80 percent of the sites are community colleges, and the Administration continues to place a strong emphasis on offering responsible students the opportunity to pursue an education and training at community colleges for free.

Indiana teen is graduating college — before she gets her high school diploma,” (USA Today, May 3, 2017) reports on Raven Osborne:

Osborne, who has been taking college classes part-time, is about to graduate from college — before she gets her high school diploma.

And now she is going to be a teacher at the same high school.

Osborne, a senior at the 895-student 21st Century Charter School in Gary, will earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in early childhood education from Purdue University Northwest on May 5, then graduate from high school on May 22.

See also this 2015 USA Today story: “More students getting college degrees in high school.”

College isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for everyone in high school or junior high, but why not allow wider choice for interested students. “College classes for middle school students? It’s happening in Hayward,” (EdSource, January 25, 2016) begins:

The students giggle, squirm and whisper to each other as their instructor gets ready to begin. It’s the start of a typical middle school class except for one thing: these 12-year-olds are taking a college course.

The program’s goal is to expose students without family experience with college education to the opportunity early:

The district wanted to use after-school time to propel students ahead, rather than focusing only on remediation or support for classroom work, Wu-Fernandez said. “We thought, ‘What better way to promote college and career readiness?’”

James Tooley, a professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, traveled the world researching The Beautiful Tree and describes the popularity of informal schools for low-income families in India and Africa.

In India, Nigeria, and Ghana, government officials explained to Tooley that private schools in their country were for the wealthy and schools for the poor would have to be free since poor families can’t afford tuition fees.

But in India Tooley stumbled upon a diverse network of informal schools:

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 8.09.40 AMWhile researching private schools in India for the World Bank, and worrying that he was doing little to help the poor, Professor Tooley wandered into the slums of Hyderabad’s Old City. Shocked to find it overflowing with small, parent-funded schools, he set out to discover if they could help achieve universal education. So began the adventure lyrically told in The Beautiful Tree—the story of Tooley’s travels from the largest shanty town in Africa to the mountains of Gansu, China, and of the children, parents, teachers and entrepreneurs who taught him that the poor are not waiting for educational handouts. They are building their own schools and learning to save themselves.

Tooley discovered hundreds of small private schools scattered across poor communities in Africa as well, even in a small fishing village in Ghana were five private schools compete with a foreign-aid funded state school. Parent-funded schools, operating informally (that is, without government approval), offered choice for parents and incentives for teachers.

This short video from Poverty Cure (a Christian nonprofit) explains:

This 2012 article in The Guardian asks: “Professor James Tooley: A champion of low-cost schools or a dangerous man?”  Here is link to a 2012 TED video with more on this research: “How private schools are serving the poorest: Pauline Dixon at TEDxGlasgow.”

Similar expansion of informal schools for low-income families occurred in 18th and early 19th Century Scotland. Most in Scotland then were as poor as in the developing world today. In both cases population growth and demand for education by parents combined with a slow response by state and church schools opening doors for local teachers and education entrepreneurs.  E. G. West, in Education and the Industrial Revolution reports the  growth of Scottish “adventure schools” in the early 1800s which had four times as many students at state, church, and endowed schools.

West reports an 1818 survey of Scottish schools which found 54,161 students in 942 Scottish parochial schools but 106,627 students in 2,222 private unendowed or non-legislated “adventure” schools. The parochial school system did not expand enough to serve rapid population growth in Scottish mill towns and cities.

E. G. West researched the combined Glasgow, Greenock, and Paisley population which “rose from 42,000 in 1750, to 125,000 in 1801, and to 287,000 in 1831.” Private schools expanded for this growing population, and charity schools developed to provide schools for orphans and children of the impoverished. “In the county of Lanark, including Glasgow, there were in 1818 fifty-six parochial schools with 3,437 children, the private schools figures were about six time bigger: 307 schools with 18, 270 pupils.”

Parents paid fees at both parochial and private schools, but private schools proved more flexible, offering various “á la carte” schooling with fees varying by course. West quotes the approving remark of Robert Lowe “In Scotland they sell education like a grocer sells figs.”

Wikipedia, in an entry on Scottish education history, includes this reference to Scottish adventure schools:

There were also large number of unregulated private “adventure schools”. These were often informally created by parents in agreement with unlicensed schoolmasters, using available buildings and are chiefly evident in the historical record through complaints and attempts to suppress them by kirk sessions because they took pupils away from the official parish schools. However, such private schools were often necessary given the large populations and scale of some parishes. They were often tacitly accepted by the church and local authorities and may have been particularly important to girls and the children of the poor. [Reference:  R. A. Houston, Scottish Literacy and the Scottish Identity: Illiteracy and Society in Scotland and Northern England, 1600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), ISBN 0-521-89088-8, pp. 115–6.]

Orphans and the very poor had options including fast-growing Ragged Schools which from the 1830s to 1870s provided free “industrial” schools for hundreds of thousands of the very poorest Scottish and English children. In Ireland Hedge Schools offered informal education (“Hedge Schools and Classical Education in Ireland,” (Crises, May 3, 2016) when the British outlawed Catholic teachers:

Throughout those dark days the hunted schoolmaster, with price upon his head, was hidden from house to house. And, in the summer time he gathered his little class, hungering and thirsting for knowledge, behind a hedge in remote mountain glen—where, while in turn each tattered lad kept watch from the hilltop for the British soldiers, he fed to his eager pupils the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge.

So examples of informal (or underground) education come from history as well as around the world today. I would argue that similar informal education is flourishing across the United States today as well.

‘Unschooling’ takes students out of the classroom,” (USA Today, July 26, 2016) reports:

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that there are nearly 2 million homeschooled children, of which 10 percent are estimated to be unschooled. …

“Unschooling is allowing your children as much freedom to explore the world as you can bear as a parent,” says Patrick Farenga, author and president of Holt GWS, an organization dedicated to continuing the mission and teachings of the late John Holt, considered to be a founder of the unschooling movement.

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 2.36.11 PMA John Holt website with more information is here. (John Holt quote link the Facebook.com/theunschoolbus.)

A similar (I think!) unschooling approach is found in Montessori  Schools, following the teaching of Maria Montessori. From the American Montessori Society webpage:

More than 4,000 Montessori schools dot the American landscape, offering a unique educational model to families nationwide. Thousands more bring the Montessori method to every corner of the world.

Montessori schools can be found in rural, urban, and suburban settings; in working-class towns, affluent communities, and even remote villages. Some schools offer all levels of learning, from infant/toddler through the secondary (high school) level. Others offer only certain levels.

In the United States, most Montessori schools are privately owned. A growing number, however, are part of public school systems, making it possible for families of any means to give their child a Montessori education.

On Montessori schools, see also: “5 Discoveries In Neuroscience That Support Montessori Teaching,” (Exploring Your Mind, (March 22, 2017)

More formal informal schooling can be found in home-centered education, expanding over the last few decades and now involving an estimated 1.8 million students.

Here is U.S. Dept. of Education page for “Statistics About Nonpublic Education in the United States.” And the National Center for Education Statistics in “Measuring the Homeschool Population,” (January 4, 2017), reports 2016 homeschool survey data will be released in 2017. Christian evangelical families make up a large percentage of homeschoolers, and an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 are in Catholic homeschooling.

A 2012 Washington Post article: “Home-schooling pioneer Susan Wise Bauer is well-versed in controversy,” looks at controversies as homeschool has expanded. Susan Wise Bauer is author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home and was long a speaker at homeschool conferences:

The English professor, historian, author of 18 books and holder of a doctorate in American studies from the nearby College of William & Mary is one of the forces behind America’s burgeoning home-schooling movement, which is growing about 7 percent each year. The National Home Education Research Institute estimates that there were 2.04 million home-schooled children in the United States as of 2010, about 4 percent of the nation’s school-age population. That’s almost double the 1.2 million home-schooled children in 2000. A June article in U.S. News & World Report said that home-schooled children graduate from college at higher rates than their peers, earn higher GPAs and are better socialized than most high school students. 

California now has a strange mixture of “home-charter” schools, following state programs that allow homeschool families to declare themselves charter schools and receive state funding. “California Virtual Academies: Is online charter school network cashing in on failure?,” (The Mercury News, April 16, 2016, UPDATED: January 11, 2017), looks at the debate:

The TV ads pitch a new kind of school where the power of the Internet allows gifted and struggling students alike to “work at the level that’s just right for them” and thrive with one-on-one attention from teachers connecting through cyberspace. Thousands of California families, supported with hundreds of millions in state education dollars, have bought in. …

K12 is the nation’s largest player in the online school market. In California, it manages four times as many schools as its closest competitor, filling a small but unique niche among the state’s roughly 1,200 charter schools. And despite a dismal record of academic achievement in California and several other states — including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee — the business regularly reports healthy profits.

EDUCATION: Why Inland charter schools are booming,” (Press-Enterprise, May 30, 2016) reports on other California parent-managed charter schools.  Also “Will LA’s recent school board election kick-off a national wave of pro-charter school expansion?,” (trustED, June 1, 2017)

Innovation and free online video and conference tools expand options for informal schooling in the U.S. and around the world. “The classroom beyond,” (The Hindu, June 8, 2017), begins:

The idea of education has undergone a vast change. A classroom is no longer thought of as a confined space with a lecturer and students. Today, with a high-speed internet connection and a willingness to learn, one can acquire degrees from top-notch universities around the world.

In recent times, education has slowly been making a move online. Universities such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford and many more the world over are offering specialised courses, giving their global community of students an online learning experience.

The article discusses Tribr:

With an aggregation of 3,000 courses, 50 learning platforms and over 50,000 hours of online learning content, the platform urges students to explore their possibilities.

Unbound is a U.S. based service assisting high school and homeschool students earn transferable college credit while in high school.

Nearby community college also offer courses for high school students, and some for-credit college courses are taught in high schools. “AP, DC, DE, IB: An A–Z Guide to College Credit in High School,” (Noodle, June 8, 2015) explains:

There are lots of different programs for students eager to get started with college work — Advanced Placement (AP), dual credit (DC), dual enrollment (DE), and International Baccalaureate (IB).

Online education services like Khan Academy offer hundreds of courses to support students in traditional, home, or unschooling environments. “Start homeschooling with Khan Academy,” is one of many webpages with online education resources.

Given these astonishingly diverse and rapidly expanding schooling technologies and opportunities, what role could or should federal education funding or regulation play?

And shouldn’t policy debaters be able to earn college credit for their many hours researching and debating through the year?


Doctors have diagnosed increased Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in students, but critics suggest reduced school recess is a cause and increasing recess time is a better alternative to ADHD drugs.

Ritalin vs. Recess: Are Drugs Really the Answer to the ADHD Epidemic?” (takepart, January 19, 2015) looks at the debate:

Today, more than 11 percent of kids in the U.S. are diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 3 percent in 1997. For boys, it’s closer to 16 percent. Physicians in the U.S. wrote 48.4 million prescriptions in 2011, a jump of nearly 40 percent in four years.

Evidence that higher ADHD rates are cultural comes from Europe:

Historically, ADHD rates in the U.S. have been far higher than in Europe, where, until recently, diagnoses hovered around 1 or 2 percent.

playground-1702072_1280Psychology Today has a series of ADHD in France articles, beginning with “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD: French children don’t need medications to control their behavior.” (March 8, 2012), followed by a “French Kids DO Have ADHD,” (November 4, 2015) and “France Is Great, But Their Kids Have ADHD Too,” (October 15, 2016), in response to “bizarre post on psychology and parents”: “Enough Is Enough Series Part 5: ADHD Is Exposed: The French got this one right.” (September 16, 2016).

This 2013 article, “When ADHD has Nowhere to Hide,” (Psychology Today, May 17, 2013) looks at the ADHD/culture debate:

The ongoing debate about whether attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) children require drugs or discipline can’t be resolved by examining prescribing practices cross-culturally. Dr. Marilyn Wedge asserts that in the US, at least 9% of school children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking medications for it, whereas in France, it is less than 0.5%. She further goes on to suggest that irregular meals, lack of structure, and weak disciplinary practices are to blame.

The article argues that reduced recess and physical education in school puts all students and especially ADHD students at a disadvantage:

Increasing demands are made on our children that put kids with ADHD at a massive disadvantage. For example, when I was a kid, we had regular recess times, long lunch breaks, and daily physical education classes. Many schools have done away with these opportunities for antsy kids to release a bit of their energies in favor of more classroom time to prepare for standardized exams. Being expected to sit at a desk for six hours can be hard for any kid, and torture for one with ADHD.

A wider range of classes and activities within a school, or a wider range of school choices can help. “How a Change in Schools Transformed My ADHD Son’s Educational Path,” (HuffPost, August 28, 2014) tells one story. Plus this 2010 article “Experiences of ADHD-Labeled Kids Who Leave Typical Schooling,” (Psychology Today, September 9, 2010).

Better food at schools may play a role as well. “Seeking an alternative to medication, parents tinker with diet to treat ADHD,” (STAT, May 2, 2017)

It’s the kind of diet — low in fruits and vegetables, high in carbs — that a doctor like herself might caution against. But it’s also low in milk, sugar, and artificial food additives — all things Carey believes worsen 10-year-old Mark’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, symptoms. Twice a day, in the morning at their home in Newburgh, Ind., and from the school nurse at lunch, he takes a vitamin and mineral supplement, which helps make up for the lack of veggies.

It’s been six months on this diet, which Carey researched herself and tested out on Mark, and in that time he has transitioned off his ADHD medication. It wasn’t all smooth sailing; there were fights in the candy section of the grocery store, and Carey struggled to find quick, high-protein breakfasts. “But honestly, I would never go back,” she said.

For more on food, the microbiome, and behavior, see “Gut, Autism, and ADHD,” (Psychology Today, January 7, 2016) and “The Gut-Brain Connection in Complex Kids,” (ImpactADHD, May 23, 2016)

More on recess benefits: “Why some schools are sending kids out for recess four times a day,” (Washington Post, September 13, 2016) quotes from an American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on School Health publication “The Crucial Role of Recess in School” (pdf):

Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education — not a substitute for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.

Also, “Recess Makes Kids Smarter: The benefits of recess are clear. Why are so many schools cutting back?,” (Scholastic, Date?):

Torres, 42, still lives in the same neighborhood she grew up in. Back then, kids had recess twice a day. “It taught me how to get along with others — whites, African-Americans. Nowadays, kids don’t know how to socialize among other groups,” she says.

There was no recess at her children’s school until last year when Torres and others lobbied and got a 10-minute break for the kids once a day. “They need to have a chance to burn off some energy,” she says. Being able to run around and swing on the monkey bars helps kids better focus in the classroom, maintains Torres — and research backs that up.

Increasing federal standards and testing requirements are part of the reason for reducing recess. “Seattle Kids Used To Get 95 Minutes Of Lunch And Recess,” (KUOW, October 1, 2015) and “Recess Shrinks At Seattle Schools; Poor Schools Fare Worst,” (KUOW, May 14, 2014), note shrinking recess times, especially for low-income schools.

There are no state or federal laws protecting recess time, either. Nor is there clear data on how much time students get for recess across the state or the U.S.

But Group Health pediatrician and childhood obesity researcher Paula Lozano said there is a known nationwide disparity in the amount of recess and PE disadvantaged students receive.

The initial article above, “Ritalin vs. Recess: Are Drugs Really the Answer to the ADHD Epidemic?,” includes the a story on the too-easy path to ADHD medication, even at an early age:

Emma was too young, at age four, to receive a sure diagnosis of ADHD, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s standards at the time. Her pediatrician suggested occupational therapy, which Emma did. But a few years later, the doctor referred Emma to a specialist—a developmental pediatrician—for a firm diagnosis. Kate was taken aback when she suggested Ritalin, especially since Emma had seen positive results from the occupational therapy. “She only met our daughter twice,” Kate recalled. “[Emma’s] occupational therapist, who she saw on a weekly basis for four years, told us medication was ridiculous.”



Issue Briefs | EducationScreen Shot 2017-06-13 at 2.48.13 PM

No. 186
Monday, January 25, 2016Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 2.49.15 PM
by Lloyd Bentsen IV

[Excerpts from Issue Brief, full text on pdf here]

Over the years, federal funding of primary and secondary education has increased, while students’ academic performance has flatlined. For instance, the high school reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress show that student performance has remained flat for the past 20 years …

Federal Education Funding

Federal education funding comes in several forms. While most federal funds go to the states (a total of $37 billion in 2015) for K-12 school districts, $4 billion is devoted to special projects such as educational reforms through initiatives.1 Though federal money is only 11 percent of total spending on public schools, it comes with a host of strings attached.2

Federal spending on elementary and secondary education more than doubled from 1995 to 2003, with a large increase in funding for initiatives such as No Child Left Behind in 2003 [see Figure II]:

  • Federal funding for elementary and secondary education more than doubled from $15 billion in 1995 to $35 billion in 2003, and education initiative funding more than doubled from $2 billion in 2001 to $7 billion in 2003.
  • Total federal education funding increased from $42 billion a year in 2001 to $63 billion in 2003.3
  • Education initiative spending peaked at 20 percent of total federal spending on elementary and secondary education and dropped to 10 percent by 2015.

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 2.49.03 PM

Both overall funding for elementary and secondary education, as well as spending on education initiatives, began to drop after 2005 due to factors such as the Great Recession of 2007.

Four Federal Initiatives

The four most recent federal education reform initiatives include “Goals 2000′′ of the Clinton administration, “No Child Left Behind” of the Bush administration, and “Race to the Top” and “Common Core” of the Obama administration.

Goals 2000. Though Goals 2000 was presented to the states as a program in which they could “voluntarily” participate, opting out meant passing up states lost ground on a couple of goals, including teacher quality and school safety. The program was scrapped by Congress and essentially replaced by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).5

No Child Left Behind. The 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, No Child Left Behind, expanded the federal role in public education through further emphasis on annual testing, annual academic progress, report cards and teacher qualifications as well as signi cant increases in funding. …

No Child Left Behind’s reliance on one-size- ts-all testing, labeling and sanctioning schools undermined many education reform efforts. As a result, many schools, particularly those serving low-income students, have become little more than test-preparation programs.

Race to the Top. The federal government has offered grants through Race to the Top (RTTT) or so-called Flexibility Waivers under NCLB, School Improvement Grants and various other programs to push states, districts and schools to line up behind policies that use these same test scores in high-stakes evaluations of teachers and principals, in addition to the NCLB focus on schools.7 …

Common Core’s relationship with the federal government is a result of President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative.10

Common Core. Common Core math and English standards were released in 2010 and implemented by many states in 2014. However, of the states that adopted and have been implementing the standards, 14 are downgrading their participation or withdrawing from national tests designed around the standards. …


Federal education reforms have failed to achieve their goals and failed to have a positive impact on education performance. Perhaps their failure was due to lack of funding or poor execution, but the fact remains that these excuses are made over and over again on both the federal and state level without signi cant improvement. Despite the federal government’s valiant attempts, a universal national curriculum leaves too many students behind. …

For notes and references see full Issue Brief pdf, which includes additional analysis.

NCPA page with “Four Failed Federal Education Reforms” intro  •  Four-page Issue Brief PDF here.

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