Carney on Education Pork

Today in his Washington Examiner column, our friend and former Brookes Fellow Tim Carney highlights yet another way in which rent-seeking businesses are lining up at the government’s (appropriately named) trough: educational pork. As Tim notes, the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, “which increases federal influence over local schools, is beginning to look like another slush fund for well-connected industries to tap into rich veins of taxpayer dollars.”

In this case, the software industry, already benefiting from the mandates and federal grants in NCLB, has a bill in both chambers of Congress that would earmark for “technology” federal education grants that previously had been unrestricted grants to local school districts. This pipeline of federal cash could be an urgent matter for the software industry, as more educators are becoming disenchanted with the promise of educational software…

In all four areas studied — first-grade reading, fourth-grade reading, sixth-grade math and algebra — the study found that the software “did not affect test scores by amounts that were statistically different from zero.” That’s a fancy way of saying these programs didn’t do a darned thing, as far as we can tell.

Kirk Johnson of the Heritage Foundation found similar results in a 2000 study, concluding: “Students with at least weekly computer instruction by well-prepared teachers do not perform any better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test than do students who have less or no computer instruction.”

Two studies do not a consensus make, and the bill cites studies that suggest the opposite. But with these doubts about software in education, why would Congress want to take away decision-making from local schools and force them all to invest more in computers and software?

A good question, but this being a political matter, the software companies could simply respond that, “It’s for the children.”