Friday July 16, 2010

Next Obama Takeover, Education?

By James Tillman

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2010 ( – Some education policy experts and Republicans are expressing concern that the Obama administration is moving education in the United States further beneath Washington’s control – and is doing so behind Congress’ back.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is a project led by the National Governor’s Association’s Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The website for the CCSSI claims that the nation-wide educational standards they propose are “in no way mandatory.”

But according to regulations issued by the Obama administration, by August 2, 2010 states must have submitted “evidence of having adopted common standards” in order to qualify for a slice of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the “stimulus bill.”

Republican Representative John Kline has said that, because the CCSSI is the only common academic standard under development of which he knows, the “Common Core is being transformed from a voluntary, state-based initiative to a set of federal academic standards with corresponding federal tests.”

He warned that “by mandating adoption of the Common Core, the Department of Education could undermine the ability of local educators to shape and customize what gets taught in individual classrooms.”

“I applaud efforts to develop a voluntary set of rigorous academic standards; however, they must not be undermined by federal intrusion.”

Furthermore, leaders of the initiative have said that the standards must be adopted word-for-word. States may add up to 15% more standards on top of the national standards, but may not remove any aspect of the national standards.

“You can’t pick and choose what you want. This is not cafeteria-style standards,” said David Wakelyn, program director of the education division of the NGA Center.

In an additional move pressuring states to adopt common standards, last February the White House signaled that it might require states to adopt common standards in order to qualify for Title I funding. Title I is a $14.5 billion program that provides funds for low-income students.

The CCSSI released college and career readiness standards for math and English in September 2009; in March 2010, the CCSSI published grade-by-grade benchmarks for both of these subject areas.

Steve Meloy, the executive secretary for the Montana board of education, said that officials “want to do the right thing.” But this raises the question of how much autonomy states should give up. “Where will we draw the line?” he asked. “First it’s standards, then curriculum, then textbooks.”

“Centralized standard-setting would force parents and other taxpayers to relinquish one of their most powerful tools for school improvement: control of the academic content, standards, and testing through their state and local policymakers,” writes

education policy experts Lindsay Burke and Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation.

“Moreover,” they said, “it is unclear that national standards would establish a target of excellence rather than standardization, a uniform tendency toward mediocrity and information that is more useful to bureaucrats who distribute funding than it is to parents who are seeking to direct their children’s education.”

In a post on the Heritage Foundation’s blog, Lindsay Burke called the new standards program, “one of the largest federal overreaches into education policy since the Great Society programs of the mid-1960s.”

“National standards—in any subject—are bad policy,” said Burke. “They are unlikely to result in high standards but rather the standardization of learning. … But perhaps worst of all, national standards would further diminish parental authority in education. The federal government would gain more power over education as a result, which would come at the expense of parents and local communities.”


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