imageOver the last number of years, there has been an under-the-radar effort to develop a national set of educational standards.  The public is only now becoming aware of this effort due to its explosion onto the scene through the Obama Administration’s Race To The Top Initiative.  More than forty states have adopted them in their race to catch the carrot Education Secretary Duncan has hovered in front of them.  The temptation is understandable as cash-strapped states become increasingly desperate for federal dollars.  In addition to concerns with the legality of the Federal Department of Education indirectly coercing states to change policies, three issues demand examination.   You must decide whether the following three concerns equal three strikes against the National Common Core Standards.

Contrast between Common Core and successful models in the wild

On June 6, 2011, EducationNext published an article by Frederick Hess on how big a change the Federal Common Core Standards are from what is currently being taught.  Although we may all agree that public education in America has systemic problems and that current curricula, teaching methodology, and school culture needs reform; the Hess quotes Andy Porter et al. from UPenn Ed school:

The Common Core standards represent considerable change from what states currently call for in their standards and in what they assess.” Moreover, “[They] are also different from the standards of countries with higher student achievement, and they are different from what U.S. teachers report they are currently teaching.

If the National Common Core is blazing new territory with unproven standards, shouldn’t we slow down, assess their value, and let states decide for themselves whether to adopt them?

Privacy Concerns with Federalization

With private entities like the Gates Foundation, Pearson Foundation, the National Governor’s Association, and others increasingly involved in policy, governance, and curricular decisions; the current privacy laws are becoming burdensome for those who want to centralize education policy at the federal level.

Recently, American Principles in Action and its coalition partners have highlighted proposed changes and the dangerous precedent these changes would make. Secretary Duncan and the Obama Administration are seeking to change long-standing privacy laws to allow personally identifiable student information available to anyone the Department of Ed authorizes.  Do you want your child’s personal information shared with whoever a federal bureaucrat decides should have it?  Should private entities have unfettered access to your child’s personally identifiable data?

These concerns are grave and, although the public comment period is closed regarding the changes, it’s never too late to have a heart-to-heart with your Congressperson about it.

The creation of a Federal Education Aristocracy

The Pioneer Institute has posted a PDF that illustrates the impact that Gates Foundation money has had on the development of the National Core Standards.  It’s scary to think that, largely under the radar and lacking transparency, Congressional oversight, or public input; one man could buy his way into the education policy world and dictate the direction our nation’s education system takes.  Please visit the follow-the-money-chart here and ask yourself if the public hasn’t been disenfranchised in this process.  It’s one thing for a parent to see a superintendent, mayor, and/or school board about an issue in his/her child’s school.  It gets tougher when States erode local control because the process to affect change becomes more intimidating and fewer people call the shots for a state-full of children.  It can easily be argued that it is impossible to federalize education policy and not disenfranchise parents.

So, maybe I’m just a bitter Mac user typing this post in Pages, but I believe we must ask ourselves this question: Do we want the guy who invented the blue screen of death and allowed Windows Me on the market (or anyone, for that matter) and his organization dictating how our children are educated for the foreseeable future?  In all seriousness, are we witnessing the creation of an educational aristocracy we may not be able to unravel unless we act quickly?

I am a passionate advocate for state’s rights.  I believe my home state of Iowa has all the tools it needs to reform public education and ensure every child in the state gets a world-class education.  I’ll work tirelessly to ensure that Iowans obtain local and state programs run by people who are accessible and accountable to them.  Our state’s motto is: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”  We’d do well to remember it when deliberating the fed’s role in Iowa’s education policy.  Other states should ask the same questions.

We do need to abandon the industrial model of education.  We should embrace new ideas and encourage local schools, districts, and other education partners to innovate and experiment.  We should learn from each other as districts and states and be willing to adopt what’s working and ignore what’s not.  We must address collective bargaining, teacher licensure, School Choice, and the role of parents.

We cannot protect the status quo.

That being said, we should always be leery of anyone who says, “I’m from Washington D.C. (or the Gates Foundation) and I’m here to help…”


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