In today’s Wall Street Journal Clark S. Judge offers his top 10 tips for a winning political strategy urging readers to, “Take a lesson from Ronald Reagan and emphasize that your programs are based on consistent principles leading to a hopeful future for all Americans.” One area failing this litmus test is the Department of Education-and we have even more reason today than 20 years ago to ponder whether Big ED has delivered on its promises. We’ll recall that in 1980 Ronald Reagan asked voters, “Are you better off than you were fours years ago?” Modern readers should ask whether today’s students will be as well educated as previous generations. Evidence is not encouraging.

Federal education spending per student has nearly tripled in real, inflation-adjusted dollars since 1970, but student achievement has, at best, flatlined. Last week President Obama admitted “On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math tests, 4th graders showed no signs of progress for the first time in many years, and 8th graders tallied only modest evidence of progress.  We are not advancing as we must.” He added that compared to their international peers, American high school students ranked in the bottom in math and science literacy.

In recent months, the Department of Education has been also been accused of manipulating publicly subsidized research on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program and the federal preschool program Head Start (See here, here, here, and here), in spite of the President’s pledge to put politics aside and do whatever works.

For all of its promises, the Department of Education has not delivered. The time has come to re-think Reagan’s proposal for eliminating the Department of Education, return the billions of dollars we’re spending on this ineffective bureaucracy to parents, and let them pick the schools they think are best for their children. Let relatives, employers, and philanthropists make tax-deductible donations to Education Savings Accounts and scholarship programs for schoolchildren as well. Let schools, in turn, publish their cost of attendance and compete for students. If education dollars were to follow students instead of filtering through wasteful, politicized bureaucracies, students and the country would be better off.