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Education Reporter

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Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education, Neal P. McCluskey, Rowman Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007, 209 pp., $19.95

"Those doing the selection [of curriculum] bring with them their own politics," reasoned the 1984 Republican Platform on education. "Therefore, the more centralized the selection process, the greater the threat of tyranny." Feds in the Classroom chronicles the increasing centralization of American education, and the fact that "massive increases in federal spending on and entanglement in education have failed to achieve positive results for students and parents."

Many people benefit from the public school monopoly, says the author, but students aren't among them. Centralization seems inexorable even when no one can claim that big government's interventions solve the problems that serve to justify increasing control. McCluskey believes that centralization and big government have disastrously escalated the "math, reading, cultural, religious, political, and countless other 'wars' already besetting our public schools." Although diversity is one of our nation's strengths, an increasingly national education system attempts to make one size fit all.

McCluskey warns of a growing willingness among traditionalists to accept centralization and federal control if they believe they will be in charge of a new national curriculum. "Federal intervention in education is unconstitutional whether it is by progressives or conservatives," he writes. Further, it is naive to think that power centralized for an apparently good cause will not end up in the wrong hands at some time in the future. Far better to work for local and parental control, and let good pedagogy like phonics speak for itself through its success wherever it is adopted.

A firm believer in the free market and its ability to inspire creativity and excellence among competing schools, McCluskey advocates vouchers and tax-based school choice, as well as sending a strong message to the federal government that unconstitutional meddling in local schools is unwelcome and won't be tolerated.

"Reformers must teach the public that as much as politicians will make it sound as if they can deliver educational services for free, they cannot. Quite simply, for every reading remediation, school nutrition, and basket-weaving program people might want for themselves, they will have to pay for thousands of programs in which they have no interest . . . . The only way to control that is for all of us to demand much less from government, or nothing at all."

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