AEI Releases Education Agenda for the States Brief


In an effort to help state lawmakers across the nation, the American Enterprise Institute put together a briefing that lists a number of do’s and don’ts for reform in K-12 education, higher education, and early childhood education.

The briefing, titled An Education Agenda For the States, begins with Director of Education Policy Studies at AEI, Frederick M. Hess, said that in general, it matters more how a reform is executed rather than whether or not it is attempted.  He goes on to clarify that this means education reforms should be left up to individual states rather than carried out by the federal government, as it is often difficult for federal officials to produce the results that will most help students.

“The US Constitution leaves education to the states for a reason: states are close enough to their communities and have suffi- cient control over schools and colleges that they can promote reforms in a manner that is actually likely to deliver.”

The briefing begins by discussing the importance of early childhood education, which is the foundation for learning and brain development.  According to researchers from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, “Early experiences determine whether a child’s developing brain architecture provides a strong or weak foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health.”

While a number of issues, including poverty, neglect and maltreatment, have been shown to have a negative effect on a child’s ability to learn, the authors contend that research has shown that high-quality care for at-risk infants, toddlers and preschools can help these children to overcome such disadvantages and rise above the negative consequences associated with them.

As such, the authors suggest that reforms look to expand beyond an increase to pre-kindergarten programs, arguing that pre-k can sometimes be too late for disadvantaged children, and that early childhood expansion should begin at the infant stage.  Because learning begins at birth, brain development at that time becomes crucial.

The authors suggest creating initiatives that can test what works while at the same time serving children well, as the authors stress that how a program is designed is just as important as it existing at all.  However, they continue to stress that new programs should not built up too quickly because it creates programs that are less-effective.

The authors continue by discussing the K-12 system in the US, which they say creates opportunity within each state.  In order to create a high-quality education system, they suggest that each state complete a comprehensive review, and that regulations should not micromanage schools.  They go on to say that instead of using standardized tests and teacher evaluation systems, states include a variety of tools that allow for flexibility.

The briefing concludes with a discussion of higher education, in which authors discuss the portability of transfer credits, suggesting that state lawmakers allow credits to transfer between state colleges and universities in an effort to shorten the amount of time spent working toward a degree, and therefore decrease the amount of money they spend on tuition.

AEI warns not to simply spend additional public dollars, but instead to find a way to put the correct amount of funding into each institution to help them to better serve their students.

The full brief, An Education Agenda for the States, can be accessed online.