Look Out, Voluntarism! Here They Come Again!

Anyone who’s paid really close attention to the national curriculum standards debate – alas, not many people – knows that many standards-hawkers are guilty of one, unacceptable thing. It’s not just pushing for national standards, which though unsupported by meaningful evidence can still be endorsed by reasonable people. No it is constantly asserting that standards adoption is “voluntary” for states. Today, that lie is being exposed once more – if you know the code, that is.

It is being widely reported this morning that in September U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will publish criteria states will have to meet to be granted waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act. (A gross violation of the Constitutions’ separation of powers, by the way, but that is a slightly different debate.) And the administration is signaling that, among other things, it will force all states that want relief from NCLB to adopt national curriculum standards, better known as the Common Core.   

But wait: At least based on this morning’s media reports, the Department isn’t actually saying that states will have to adopt the Common Core.

Ah, but it is saying that, only using the smoke-screen euphemisms that national-standardizers constantly employ to mask Washington’s foisting of a de facto federal curriculum on every public school in the nation.

Let’s clear the haze.

The Washington Post notes that “administration officials said they will grant waivers to states that adopt standards designed to prepare high school graduates for college and careers.”  “College-and-career” standards means the Common Core, because it is the only multi-state standards regime that purports – dubiously, in the eyes of some experts – to represent adequate preparation for both college and work.

Bloomberg News corroborates this conclusion both by noting that the Obama administration has already pushed for “national standards,” and by quoting White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, who said that ”low expectations, uneven standards and shifting goals are unacceptable. Those days are numbered.”

Why, however would the federal government flatten “uneven” state standards?

As Bloomberg suggests, this is not new. But again, you have to know the subtle cues. The federal ”Race to the Top” shoved states into national standards, but using the crafty verbiage of “adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace.” President Obama’s proposal for reauthorizing NCLB speaks similarly; it would require states to adopt “college- and career-ready” standards. And in case that’s not enough proof for you, Washington is spending $350 million on two consortia that are developing tests to go with the Common Core, one of which just released draft curriculum “frameworks.”

All of this leads me to reissue a challenge I offered a few months ago to purveyors of the voluntarism ruse: If you really want this to be voluntary, loudly and publicly condemn federal coercion, declaring it unacceptable.

So far, the response has been thundering silence. But the Obama administration is poised to offer yet another opportunity to make things right.