Unless the electorate awakes in 2012 from its Obama induced coma, it won’t be The Affordable Health Care Act that will be remembered for putting the nation on the road to serfdom, but the Washington hijacking of education. While Americans have been preoccupied with recession, unemployment, congressional peccadilloes, and foreign and natural disasters, cash hungry states, 43 at last count, quietly sold our children’s birthright of freedom to the national government. (The term “federal government” is no longer accurate because the structure built by the Founders is now unrecognizable.)
Never mind that the Constitution reserves education to the states. The Obama administration got around that inconvenience by tying federal funds to state approval of the so-called Common Core Standards. To obtain the money, the majority of states went along with, what can only be described as, an end run around the Constitution.
As Bill Evers, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Policy under President George W. Bush, et all, explains on The Hill’s Congress Blog,
The new national curriculum is designed to complement a federally-funded national testing system that will test every public school student in America. Left unchallenged, this federal effort will establish for America a new system of national tests, national academic content standards, and a national curriculum.
Tyrants have always known that their longevity depends upon controlling the minds of the next generation. Bureaucrats know it, too.
Evers provides a relevant citation from Joseph Califano, President Carter’s Health, Education and Welfare Secretary: “Any set of test questions that the federal government prescribed should surely be suspect as a first step toward a national curriculum. … [Carried to its full extent,] national control of curriculum is a form of national control of ideas.”
The teacher unions, and assorted education interest groups are solidly behind a national curriculum. It has the great advantage of providing one-stop shopping. It will be so much easier to work their will in Washington than to contend with state boards of education, legislatures and district governing boards.
The nationalized curriculum and matching testing system is being marketed as the solution to weak state standards, lousy SAT scores and a failed public education system. Thus, does the cover of the AFT publication, American Educator, advertize the contents of the Spring Issue: “How a Common Core Curriculum can make our education system run like clockwork.”
Heaven knows there is a great deal wrong with public education, some of which is reiterated in the magazine. We learn, for example, in Marilyn Jager Adams’ lead article, that researchers who analyzed the difficulty of 800 elementary, middle, and high school books published between 1919 and 1991 found them significantly less difficult.
Books for 8th graders from 1963 onward were as simple as books for fifth graders before 1963. Difficulty levels for eleventh grade textbooks in history, literature, composition, and grammar were reduced to between ninth and tenth grade levels. Literature texts required for 12th grade English classes after 1963 were simpler than the wording of 7th grade texts published prior to 1963. Schoolbooks for students in grades 4 and above were especially simplified after 1962.
Textbook publishers sell what the education market will buy. The schools needed easier books because the first battle in the “reading wars” had been lost to college of education “experts.” But that’s another story.
What all this means is that when your darling child brings home A’s, don’t assume what was learned is what should have been learned.
It gets worse. Much of the research into textbooks was initiated in 1977 as a result of the 15-year decline in SAT scores. Looking for a cause, the College Board also examined the tests, thinking they had become more difficult. The tests were easier. Although demographic changes in the population of test takers accounted for about a third of the decline in the 1960s, by the 1970s the test taking population stabilized, yet the decline continued, steeper than before.
According to Adams, SAT scores, although no longer in free fall, have not caught up to where they were 50 years ago, and show little indication of doing so.
She points out, the scores that declined the most were those of the strongest students, those in the top 10 percent of their class.
This amounts to poisoning our seed corn. These are the engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs of the future. Or not.
The rationale for national standards is that they will cure a failed system, “make it run like clockwork.” But kids aren’t gears and in a large, diverse country like America, one size does not fit all. The assumption that uniform means better requires a gigantic leap of faith not supported by experience, political realities, or by the content of the standards.
Dr. Sandra Stotsky’s testimony before the Texas Legislature summed up the case against turning education over to Washington.
States adopting Common Core’s standards will damage the academic integrity of both their post-secondary institutions and their high schools precisely because Common Core’s standards do not strengthen the high school curriculum and cannot reduce the current amount of post-secondary remedial coursework in a legitimate way. Their standards may lead to reduced enrollment in advanced high school courses and to weakened post-secondary coursework because Common Core’s “college readiness” English Language Arts standards are designed to enable a large number of high school students to be declared “college ready” and to enroll in post-secondary institutions that will have to place them in credit-bearing courses. These institutions will then likely be under pressure from the USDE to retain these students in order to increase college graduation rates.“*
Remember the New Math debacle, whole language, and the Clinton era history standards that leaned so far to the left that Congress buried them? Now imagine imposing such pedagogic nightmares nationwide, enforced with a matching test system.
Fortunately, not everyone has been drinking the national standards Kool Aide. In May of 2011, more than 100 education leaders—professors, policy leaders, public policy heads, former Members of Congress, and others—released a paper opposing Washington’s unprecedented overreach into what is taught in local schools. The document states, in part,
Transferring power to Washington, D.C., will only further subordinate educational decisions to political imperatives. All presidential administrations—present and future, Democratic and Republican—are subject to political pressure. Centralized control in the U.S. Department of Education would upset the system of checks and balances between different levels of government, creating greater opportunities for special interests to use their national political leverage to distort policy. Our decentralized fifty-state system provides some limitations on special-interest power, ensuring that other voices can be heard, that wrongheaded reforms don’t harm children in every state, and that reforms that effectively serve children’s needs can find space to grow and succeed.
Finally, the most promising educational reforms have not been top down; they are bottom up. In many states parents are now free to choose the schools their children attend. Charter schools are organized to offer a more challenging curriculum or meet particular needs. Parent councils within the public system demand that districts become more responsive to their education concerns and districts comply because they know that parents can take their children and their tax dollars and go elsewhere. Competition, choice, and innovation are challenging the status quo. It’s called freedom and it can be lost.
* It should be noted that Dr. Stotsky was part of the standards development process, which she found disturbingly “non-transparent.” She refused to sign off on the document.