COMMENTARY | We Americans love looking only where the light is. When there is a problem we don’t want to probe the depths; we want to search for “solutions” where it is convenient. U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has released his latest “Wastebook,” detailing 2013’s wasteful federal spending, and nitpicks over projects ranging from multi-billion dollar programs to single websites costing less than a million dollars. While I applaud Coburn’s efforts to point out wasteful spending, as detailed by CBS, he and other critics of federal overspending need to think big, not small.
Cancelling a website that costs less than a million dollars is less than a drop in the bucket.
For a real look at trimming federal spending, we need to look at our biggest federal expenditures. Things like defense spending and education spending cost many billions of dollars and can be trimmed considerably.
Defense spending: Why, despite presidents of both parties being relatively unwilling to put “boots on the ground” to handle global hot spots like Syria and its chemical weapons, North Korea and its nukes and brutal gulags, and Iran and its budding nuclear program, do we still spend so much on ground forces? Why not trim out ground forces spending by bringing back a draft and, like other nations, running young men and women through short terms of military service? These draftees, young and single, could be paid far less than today’s volunteer soldiers, who may have dependents and demand higher salaries.
As an additional benefit, running millions of draftees through 1-3 years of an intensive program that enhances discipline, physical fitness, and skill-based education will likely improve young Americans’ job prospects and decrease their reliance on government welfare. After 1-3 years of military service, having been paid throughout, former draftees will also be more successful at college education. Instead of immature 18-year-olds entering university classrooms, you would have more mature 21-year-olds, already having learned important life skills, entering those lecture halls ready to learn (and lead).
Higher education spending: We spend too much on public colleges and universities, encouraging bloat and grade inflation. Employers complain that college graduates reach entry-level positions lacking in basic knowledge, communication skills, and math-based skills. Currently, we are trying to “fix” this problem by throwing money at colleges and universities, burdening taxpayers while hardly helping teens and twentysomethings learn better.
Instead, we must accept that “less is more” when it comes to encouraging healthy competition in regard to learning. Students are not motivated to learn, work hard, and excel when they know that virtually anyone can get into college, stay in college, and even graduate from college. They know the game is rigged so that teachers, lecturers, and professors look bad when a student fails, allowing the student off the hook. We actually need to begin deregulating public higher education to remove schools’ incentives to engage in rampant grade inflation and relaxation of conduct standards. Only then will college graduates be graduating with a vigorous skill set and solid work ethic.
K-12 education spending: The race to the top has turned out to be a race to the bottom. America’s teen test scores continue to fall in comparison with those from other industrialized nations. Why? Just like with public higher education, public junior highs and high schools engage in widespread grade inflation and relaxation of conduct and discipline standards. This is because, like with higher education, considerable funding from the federal government is contingent upon appealing statistics. If you want full federal funding, including grants, you have an incentive to encourage teachers to artificially elevate grades and encourage administrators to artificially minimize student punishments.
Problems resulting from declining test scores are often attributed, at least publicly, to lack of resources in the classroom. As a high school teacher, I doubt this is the main cause in many instances. In fact, I believe that we constantly hawk new technology as an education godsend simply because it is non-controversial and does not blame students or parents for underperformance or misbehavior? The federal government, by subsidizing such tech-hungry spending on education, is effectively wasting money. The real problem? We no longer hold student accountable, and they know it. Giving them tablet computers will only make it worse.
Trust in local teachers and administrators must return and schools must be trusted to grade and discipline their own students. It’s a heckuva lot cheaper and will improve test scores far more than throwing new technology at students.