Education's Billion-Dollar Baby

For another of her microscopic studies of what goes on beneath the governmental and journalistic clichés of Washington, Mrs. Drew has chosen to examine the first results of federal aid to education. Her conclusion is that feds plus funds equals a long-term possibility of progress.

THE ATLANTIC

BY ELIZABETH BRENNER DREW

THOSE who agree with Harold Howe, the new U.S. Commissioner of Education, that “too much education has been a Procrustean bed which the kids have had to fit,”or with Francis Keppel, until recently the Assistant Secretary for Education, that “education is too important to be left solely to the educators,” or with another education official who would prefer not to be named that “school officials have spent too much time looking for good buys in urinals and not enough thinking about what the kids are learning" have some cause to be hopeful. The hope rides on whether or not the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 works; yet making it work is no easy trick.

The first large-scale school aid bill in the nation’s history was enacted not, as was widely believed, because the issues of church and state, segregated schools, and federal control were resolved, but because they were lobbed out of Congress back to the states and school districts. Furthermore, there was no reservoir of talented administrators and specialized educators to rush in to make the Act work. The task of getting the program mounted during the past year is, I believe, a case of a good program in the hands of — at the very top, at least — able men. Yet how can Washington, with the power of money but the limitations imposed by political accommodations and practical necessities, bring about the desired results in Hattiesburg, Bismarck, Schenectady, and Chicago? Do local authorities have the wit and the will to improve markedly their worst schools, to make the system more concerned with the result of education than with the process?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was born partly of the attitudes about education that prevail at the top of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and partly of desperation. Neither President Kennedy nor President Johnson had been able to put through Congress a longstanding Democratic pet proposal — federal aid for school construction and teachers’ salaries. Catholics would demand equivalent aid for parochial schools, which raised constitutional and political problems; Northerners and civil rights groups would demand a provision that no funds go to segregated schools; and these, plus genuine opposition to federal spending and fear of federal interference in the workings of local school systems, combined to kill school-aid proposals.

Meanwhile, Francis Keppel, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who was brought to Washington as Kennedy’s Education Commissioner in 1962, and John Gardner, then head of the Carnegie Corporation and now Secretary of HEW, were trying to steer Administration thinking to a new order of educational priorities, with the “educationally disadvantaged” at the top of the list. (After three years of exhausting work to get enaction of this and other education legislation — the job for which he had come to Washington — Keppel wanted to resign and return to private life. At Gardner’s request, he stayed on an extra year as assistant secretary and resigned in mid-1966.)

The new approach, it turned out, was not only more pertinent to education’s most pressing needs than the general scattering about of funds to build buildings and give all teachers a bit of a raise. It squarely faced the seldom admitted fact that our much vaunted system of free and equal education for all is a myth, that rich kids and middleclass kids, whose parents sit on school boards, are given a better education than poor kids.

The new program was not talked about in quite these terms as it was presented to Congress. In its own words, it was aimed at “the special educational needs of educationally deprived children,” and it was widely seen as a logical escalation of the war on poverty. Each school district would be given funds based on the number of children in families with an income of less than $2000 or on welfare. The funds were to be concentrated on schools with the greatest number of “disadvantaged” children, and were to be used to provide new staff, special services or facilities, over and above ongoing programs, to remedy the effects of past deprivations, and to gear the school to the child’s needs. All of this was to be done under Title I, the major section of the new program. On the rationale that the aid was for the child rather than for the school or school system, impoverished private school students were entitled to many of the benefits of Title I. (In marvels of Talmudic reasoning, the money may not be used to construct a private school classroom, but may buy a publicly owned mobile classroom to be parked outside the private school; it may not be used to hire a special teacher for the private school, but a special teacher hired for the public schools may be sent to teach in the private school.)

The other four sections of the Act are worthy of mention, though their implementation will not be covered here. They provide library books (a third of the nation’s schools have no libraries) and textbooks, permitting the books to be “loaned” to private schools; funds for construction of centers offering special educational, scientific, and cultural programs beyond, and hopefully more creative than, the ones the schools are already providing; funds for more coordinated research into improving educational techniques; and federal funds so that state education agencies can expand, hire better-caliber people, and modernize their budgeting and statistical techniques. Slightly more than $1 billion was authorized for the first year of the Act, almost all of it for Title I.

THE five sections of the bill are all of a piece, and when the program is viewed this way, what Keppel and his colleagues were up to becomes clear. They hoped to foment a quiet revolution in education. When pressed, Keppel said that the bill’s point was “to make school systems rethink the whole thing,” that “it does represent a strategy for educational change.” Research, which has been minimal for so large an enterprise as education, would be expanded, its anachronisms and anarchy reduced; the special centers established throughout the country would be showcases for new ideas; and the products of all this would be pushed into the classroom. Now, some say, it usually takes twenty-five years for a new idea to get off the shelf and into the school. Meanwhile, state education agencies would be improved so that they could help administer the large new undertaking, do the job they were meant to do, and bring some order and efficiency to the fundamentally inefficient American education system.

Three months and one day after Mr. Johnson proposed it, a largely unchanged bill was enacted. It was not until late September, however, that Congress approved the appropriation bill providing the money to get the program going. By that time, the 1965-1966 school year had begun. To add to the pressure, in a few months the President would have to ask Congress to extend the one-year authorization and to provide more money, and congressmen would be seeking assurances that the new program was going swimmingly.

Long before the Act was passed, Frank Keppel knew that the Office of Education was in no shape to administer it. It was largely a professional society of experts divided into little principalities which concerned themselves with such things as gathering statistics on the square feet of classrooms or offering consulting service on outmoded vocational education; its budgeting and accounting system was barely out of the goose-quill-pen era. Between 1961 and 1965, however, the Office’s budget had tripled, from $500 million to $1.5 billion, as new and expanded programs of college and vocational aid were enacted. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act would be piled on top of that.

In early 1965, Keppel launched a wholesale reorganization and talent search. At this writing, more than a year later, modernized budgeting and accounting systems have been installed and most of the reorganizing has taken place, but the problem of personnel remains a nagging one. One third of the top-level jobs are unfilled; throughout the ranks there are still 300 vacancies out of 2500 jobs. Whether those hired have brought to the agency the drive, competence, spark, and leadership it needs remains to be proven.

The problem of attracting talent is a common one throughout the government, particularly as new programs get under way. The peculiar problems facing the Office of Education were: working for OE was not exactly a status symbol in the education profession; it was up against competition of its own making in expanding universities, state and local education agencies, consulting firms, and publishing houses; the most experienced talent could command higher salaries outside government; many school retirement plans were too good to give up. The combination educator-administrator that was needed was not an easy commodity to find. Finally, there were the procedural drags: a jungle of civil service regulations, intra-HEW clearances, and the required personal approval of Presidential Assistant Marvin Watson for all top appointments.

There was not time, however, to wait for the arrival of more help if Title I was to have any effect during the 1965—1966 school year. Beginning last summer, therefore, OE employees were pulled off their regular jobs, or held down double jobs, while the first stage of implementing the law was begun — the delicate, difficult, tedious, and quarrelsome business of drawing up regulations, or ground rules. Teams were dispatched around the country to try to explain to state and local officials how the Act would work. “We were cannibalizing people that we had on board to get ready for a program many times larger than programs we already had,” says one OE official. “The state agencies were in exactly the same situation; yet they were responsible for launching programs, and developing a system of evaluation and approval, a system of accounting and fiscal management. There was the same situation at the local level.”

In the interest of selling Congress, the architects of the bill devised the formula for allocating funds under Title I so that money would go to every county in the nation, and to as many school districts as possible, even the wealthier ones. Thus it turned out that 95 percent of the nation’s 26,000 school districts were eligible for aid. For both administrative and political reasons, the judgment was made that the program would be administered by state agencies, whatever their limitations, rather than in Washington. “We simply couldn’t handle it in Washington,” explains Keppel. “Each district has quite a different problem; the plans have to be reviewed and screened somewhere.

The choice was of strengthening the existing machinery, which was there, to handle these thousands upon thousands of separate programs, or weakening that machinery by having all the judgments made in Washington. From my point of view, the best alternative was to decentralize.” There were also other reasons. “We were conscious all along that we were dealing with jealously held concepts of state and local control over education,” says a high Administration official. This way Congress could not cry that the states were being bypassed, and the federal control issue was damped down.

The arrangement was that the federal government would provide the money and establish the regulations, the state governments would pledge to administer the Act in accordance with the regulations, the school districts would draw up plans for using the money and submit them to state agencies for approval, and the federal government would, in turn, see the plans only after the states had approved them. (Some state school officials fought the idea of showing the plans to the government at all.) Despite the obeisance to the idea that education should be state-controlled, there was some skirting of the issue. The money was in effect deposited with each school district, and the responsibility for originating the plans was given to the local school agencies. “There was just not enough confidence that as a whole the state governments would know how to handle this kind of program,” explained one OE official.

State education agencies vary widely in competence and in their relationships with local districts. Phoenix has a small statistics-gathering group barely tolerated by the rest of the state; Pierre has traditionally had little power, and can offer but meager salaries in its desperate attempts to staff itself for the new program; Springfield is largely an appendage of Chicago; Columbus is conservative, slow-moving, and thus far a drag on getting the new Act going in Ohio; Albany has the beststaffed, most prestigious, and most powerful state agency in the country, one that once went so far as to remove the New York City school board. Some state agencies have been deliberately kept weak; some would like to take charge of the new program, as the Act requires, but find it hard to resist local pressures. Harrisburg, after all, has to live with Philadelphia. And the school districts bring a wide variety of resources to the job of developing new programs: some are sophisticated; some are rich enough to hire the specialists to design a good program; some are poor, rural, and don’t know where to begin.

This explains, perhaps, why it was not until four months after the Act passed Congress that federal officials completed the drafting of the regulations on how it was to be carried out. The regulations — thirteen triple-columned minutely printed pages of them — were published in September. The fifty-three-page book of guidelines to help bewildered state and local officials make head or tail of the regulations was not available until January, 1966. Then, because of various misjudgments, the guidelines had to be revised, and a new set was distributed in February. A major problem was the diversity of the clientele.

MEANWHILE, misconceptions of the Act had time to spread. Through a combination of misinterpretation, wishful thinking, and malintent, the impression got about that this was actually warmed-over general school aid, and all the talk about poverty was window dressing to get the bill passed. Some school district officials thought that they could use the money to build classrooms and raise teachers’ salaries as long as they did it for poor children’s schools. Many found it hard to understand OE’s urging that the programs be concentrated in the schools with the most impoverished children, even if this meant spending no money on small numbers of poor children in schools scattered throughout the city (“Don’t water the penicillin,” OE officials plead). Some thought they could use the new federal money for projects they had already planned to pay for out of local funds. Many who did understand that the federal money had to be used for new programs succumbed to aggressive school equipment salesmen. Hundreds of school districts placed orders for teaching machines, projectors, educational TV, regardless of their relevance to the needs of educationally retarded children. Some companies offered attractive package deals, throwing in an extra projector perhaps, and some obliged local officials by filling out their federal applications for them. OE officials, appalled at the number of obviously “canned” applications coming in, began frantically sending out warnings, but in many cases the equipment salesmen had already made off with the first year’s funds.

The most fundamental problem, perhaps, in getting school districts to make good use of the money was that this required superintendents and school boards to face up to and reverse their own failures. School administrators like to say that if only they had the money, or if only they could persuade their school boards, they would not be operating miserable schools where, for instance, children “graduate” into high school with fifthgrade abilities. “Too many districts have lived too long with an on-going system where children succeed or don’t,” said one administrator of the new program; “if they drop out they are no longer a problem for the school. Too few have faced the problem of identifying special needs, and what can be done to meet these needs. They haven’t faced the problems of joblessness, delinquency, perpetuated welfare dependency — these have been apart from the school’s concerns. Now they resent being dragged into this.”

Moreover, the new Act was often incompatible with local politics, which, after all, had done much to produce the worst schools. Now the federal government was demanding that these schools be favored. A few local officials were glad to be able to do this and blame “the feds,” but this seems to have been a minority reaction. Some congressmen have been privately telling HEW officials that they are facing a middle-class revolt against federal programs favoring the poor.

Beyond politics, where were local officials to gain the capacity to treat the “special educational needs of educationally deprived children”? Some districts in all their wisdom came up with plans for new programs in driver education, band, and wrestling teams. Some wanted to remodel kitchens or buy recreational equipment. Some wanted to treat with education in general but not educationally deprived children in particular — to establish kindergartens or to lower ever so slightly the teacher-pupil ratio throughout the district. Some did focus on the most abysmal schools, but not on their students. One OE official told me that Florida moved quickly with its new program, but then the pleased OE officials discovered that much of it was devoted to equipment. “A couple of days after we realized this,” he said, “a man from the Florida state department of education came in for more money, this time for migratory children. That was what the money was for in the first place, but there was none left.”

On the brighter side, Rochester, New York, with the help of talented officials and backed by a good state agency, has developed a program that OE officials find highly pleasing. The largest part of Rochester’s $2 million is spent for remedial courses during school hours. In other programs, the teacher-pupil ratio in the worst schools is being reduced, extensive in-service teacher training is being provided for teachers in these schools, teachers are being freed to spend more time on experimenting with the curriculum, parents are being involved in the learning processes at home and in the schools. A bookmobile has made books available where there are no libraries, and racks of paperbacks have been put in the classrooms of the high schools. Health and counseling services have been expanded, flexible art and clay-and-wood-modeling courses have been introduced, and there are more field trips. OE says that though there are many programs, the money is not diluted, and the programs are in proportion.

The basic problem is that nobody really knows for sure yet what is the best thing for educationally deprived children. The majority of the Title I programs thus far have to do with using teacher aides, remedial courses during or after hours, provision of health, food, and psychological services, and home-school visits. The more thoughtful federal officials, however, ask themselves whether these are really the best solutions or only the most obvious. What is the point of an after-school remedial course for tired children if nothing is changed during the six hours they are in school? How much is accomplished if a child’s teeth and eyesight are improved but his school is not? Will there be follow-through, so that one year’s gains are not lost the next? Does it really make any difference if children who can barely read are taken to a “cultural event” or are given a summer “camping experience”? Is there too much emphasis on overhauling the “culturally deprived” child and too little on retooling his schools and his teachers? The Act requires that school districts “evaluate” the results of their programs, and this has produced considerable groping for terms, standards, or goals, or what statisticians call “baseline data,” on which to base an evaluation. There is still much to be learned.

The Office of Education has virtually inundated school officials with pamphlets, memoranda, offers of microfilms, and so on, in an earnest attempt to be helpful. Yet many school officials were already in a state of rebellion against the paper work pouring out of Washington. They considered the application forms outrageously complicated. Their reaction was about hall bellyaching and half justified complaining, as even OE officials admit. School officials have complained. again with mixed validity, that it costs them too much to get the federal money. The American Association of School Administrators’ executive secretary, Dr. Forrest Conner, said that he had yet to find a community where the cost of planning for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was less than $10,000, and that it cost some cities up to $1 million. This has the unfortunate by-product of putting the “them-that-has-gits” principle into action; the wealthier cities can afford to hire the talent and specialists and pay the overhead to get a good program going, while the poorer small towns and rural areas cannot.

A number of school districts have simply thanked the government and rejected the funds. Some did it because of the local expense involved, some because they feared the heavy hand of Uncle Sam messing in their affairs, some because they refused to acknowledge that there were educationally deprived children in their midst, and some because the size of the federal grant was too piddling to bother about. In New York State, Tuxedo Park, one of the poshest districts, which was somehow awarded $73.13, and New Lebanon, which was granted $7.13, rejected the program. A more serious question is whether, under the pressure to make sure that the full amount of money is used, it is spent merely for spending’s sake.

Dr. Conner and his staff at the AASA have been busy telling school administrators why they should not reject the program and persuading those that did to change their minds. “We must meet the challenge.” said an AASA “Hotline” newsletter to school administrators, “. . . if we are to do what we have been talking about for years” And then it came to the point: “If we don’t, someone else will.”

If there is one thing educators do not like, it is Keppel’s kind of talk about education being too important to be left solely to them. They speak of the “so-called new establishment” over at HEW and claim, perhaps justifiably, that if they had been consulted more, the first year of the new Act would have proceeded more smoothly. The establishment of poverty programs such as Project Head Start outside the school system went against their union-shop approach to education. School officials were less than delirious, therefore, when they learned that Congress had required that plans for Title I be “developed in cooperation with” community action agencies established to operate poverty programs. Where the CAA’s are largely passive or an arm of City Hall, this section has caused little trouble, unless there is another group militantly opposed to City Hall. In this case, or where the CAA is firmly independent, there have been some bruising controversies over how Title I money should be spent. In some cities, school officials have become sensitized to poverty groups, and learned how to deal with them; more will have to do the same. This is probably one of the best things about the new Act.

THE disposition of Chicago’s $32.5 million grant for Title I was the subject of so much wrangling that the 1965-1966 school year was more than half over before plans to use just one third of the money were approved by the state, and even these were still in dispute. Benjamin Willis, the redoubtable Chicago school superintendent who has won the animosity of civil rights groups, after much fanfare unveiled in late September a program which was primarily a voluntary after-school remedial course lasting for one hour four afternoons a week. There were also to be “saturation” programs in three school areas, two of them largely white, above-moderate-income areas (one of these containing the homes of both Willis and the school board chairman). The Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, a coalition of church, labor, and civil rights groups, charged that Willis’ plans defied federal requirements that Title I funds be spent in areas with high concentrations of lowincome families, and that the programs be of sufficient size and scope “to give reasonable promise of substantial progress.”

Following loud protests, Willis withdrew the plans and in October submitted new ones which were so fuzzy that it was virtually impossible to tell where the money would go. Nevertheless, Illinois state superintendent Ray Page pronounced the plans “great” and released the first $6 million of Chicago’s federal money. In December, the C.C.C.O. filed a voluminously documented complaint with Washington, asking that the Chicago program be suspended. This produced much scurrying and telephoning between Washington, Springfield, and Chicago during the rest of the year, and fractious disputes over each step of the program.

Trouble over Chicago’s segregated schools had already started early in 1965 as the Office of Education moved to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting federal funds from being spent where there was discrimination in their use. The school act was the first program of sufficient size to give the OE the leverage to induce districts to desegregate their schools in order to get federal aid.

Early in 1965 each school district was required to file an “assurance” of “full compliance" with Title VI. The assurances of some 2000 districts known to run dual school systems were deferred (the “deferral” at that point was largely symbolic, since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act had not yet become law). The Office of Education’s 100-member civil rights compliance staff then had to negotiate compliance plans with the 2000 districts. About 100 Southern districts refused federal funds rather than desegregate. Invariably, these are districts with Negro children who desperately need federal help.

Since it is not a very good administrative practice for federal bureaucrats to treat local officials as liars, and there was not enough OE staff to check on the districts, all but the most blatantly suspicious assurances had to be taken at their word for the time being. Nor was HEW ready to deal with the issue of de facto school segregation (there is a growing body of opinion in Washington as well as in the civil rights movement that there is no such thing, that the racial makeup of schools is always the result of official action). But ready or not, complaints came in charging racial discrimination in the schools of Boston, San Francisco, Chester, Pennsylvania, and Chicago.

The Chicago complaint, filed in July by the C.C.C.O., charged that school boundaries and feeder systems were deliberately drawn to maintain racially segregated schools, and that the school system ran the Washburne Trade School as a school for apprentices selected by racially discriminatory unions. In a lengthy documented report, the C.C.C.O. charged that “more than 90 percent of Chicago’s Negro children attend segregated schools.” It asked that Chicago’s $32 million for Title I be deferred.

To telescope subsequent events: after preliminary investigation Keppel wrote to state superintendent Page saying that preliminary checks “indicate probable noncompliance” with Title VI and that Chicago’s funds should be suspended until the issues were “satisfactorily resolved.” After complaints to President Johnson by Mayor Daley, there resulted the October 5 “Cohen-Whiston Pact,” between Wilbur Cohen, undersecretary of HEW and Frank B. Whiston, president of the Chicago Board of Education, which agreed that in return for HEW’s release of the funds, Whiston would within sixty days “examine the validity of any complaints” and take “appropriate action . . . if any is called for.” By early spring, according to one HEW source, the Pact was “still very badly not carried out.”

Chicago’s racial problems and ward politics may be no worse than those that federal administrators will face in other cities as they try to make the school act work. In openly moving on Chicago first as they did, however, federal officials just happened to pick a city whose mayor is a major power in the Democratic Party. Also, they failed to lay sufficient groundwork within the federal government — the Justice Department, which doubts that it was legal to suspend the funds without a hearing, apparently was not contacted. When a move this potentially explosive and politically loaded is made, it must have the government and the White House behind it.

ALL has been much quieter on the religious front than on the civil rights front, much quieter, in fact, than federal officials expected. OE officials and Catholic education leaders like to tell (with remarkable similarity) how the local school superintendent is taking the local monsignor out for a drink, and by golly they’re finding out that they have all kinds of mutual problems and are learning to solve them together. In many cities the public-private school accommodation is working well. Most of the projects are worked out either through the “shared time” or the “shared services” concept, through special after-school or Saturday classes. While many Catholic educators prefer shared services to shared time, because of the inconvenience of shipping the children from place to place, in many cities and slates shared services are less acceptable politically. Under the shared services arrangement, publicly hired teachers and counselors are sent into the private schools for special and remedial work.

Yet there seems to be more quiet than peace on the religious issue as yet. Some states — Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin, Nebraska — have issued very tough rulings against aid to the private schools. In mid-February, the Office of Education felt compelled to send out a memorandum to state officials chiding them for the “rather minimal involvement of private school students.” It also pointed out that where private school students were involved, it was often on a noncomparable basis — for instance, when public school children are given extensive remedial instruction and private school pupils get a trip to the zoo.

Catholic leaders appear to have settled on a deliberate policy of not complaining about their treatment under the Act. Their approach seems to be based on two factors. First, they feel that they must overcome the effects of the unfortunate public relations resulting from Catholic involvement in defeats of earlier school bills. Second, they know that any further federal help is contingent on this first experiment’s proceeding without uproar. As one observer put it, “It is in their interest not to conduct a holy war.” Opponents of the public-private settlement, however, have not given up. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Jewish Congress have been holding meetings in Washington to devise a court challenge to the law. They have already started one indirect challenge, in a suit filed in Detroit against a Michigan state program very similar to Title I. And despite the shaky truce, few observers feel that a solution is in sight for the public-private issue when the question of school construction aid arises again, as it will.

The central issue behind the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is how to motivate change, real change. This, if it works, is what the Act should do, through a combination of bribery by federal funds and pressure by aroused community groups, gingerly and spasmodically backed by the federal government. As applied to the central issue behind the Act, “creative federalism” begins to mean something. One of President Johnson’s White House assistants defines creative federalism as “the three systems of government in America working in a creative working relationship; instead of each narrowly defending its own jurisdiction, they are working together and strengthening each jurisdiction. It stems from a feeling that the federal government has no business or desire to run these programs on a national basis; this has a price, but what would be the alternative price if the federal government would have to develop plans for each community?” At this point, creative federalism in school aid means letting the states and local communities have a go at trying to spend the money wisely, at discovering local solutions to local problems and working out new relationships between themselves, while federal officials referee from the sidelines. Theoretically, the feds still have the last word, for it is theirs to withhold the funds; yet this is a drastic act, one which they seek to avoid, preferring instead to coach, encourage, threaten, and cajole, and, for the time being, to put up with less than the best.

Perhaps I have overstressed the problems, tensions, and frustrations of getting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act going. If so, this was not with any intent to condemn, but to show that federal laws are not self-implementing, and that even in the hands of the brightest, most dedicated men, they can produce no quick miracles. On the contrary, to my mind the basic disruption that has been going on is a good sign, for it indicates change rather than federal subsidization of business as usual. As one administrator put it, “Once you get to the point where 26,000 school districts have to do something, relax. You’re further along than you were before they did anything.”

There are a lot of possibilities if the experiment works: fewer uneducated, unequipped people would be coming out or dropping out of the schools; when the slum children are as well educated as the rest, racial integration will be easier to bring off; with the lifting of the de facto segregation lines, paralyzing controversies over where to construct new schools would be irrelevant; more federal aid would follow; more talented, modern people would see the point of teaching in and running school systems; the Procrustean bed would take its place beside the Murphy bed in the Smithsonian.

All of this may be just dreaming, induced by the opiate of hope. There is also the possibility that the experiment will fail, that state and local officials will prove to be too unwilling or too limited to make a success of it, and that federal officials will be overly timid. In that case the losers will be in general all of us, and in particular the kids in the slums and the scratchy rural areas — but then they’re used to being the losers.