By ‘No Federal Control’ We Mean ‘Yes, Federal Control’

People are starting to fight back against the sneaky push for nationalized curricula, and folks at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute are revealing their true colors in response.

Yesterday, Fordham President Chester Finn and Executive VP Michael Petrilli responded to the national standards “counter-manifesto” released on Monday, and they were none too happy with its signatories, accusing them of peddling “half truths, mischaracterizations, and straw men.” What seemed to aggravate them most of all was the assertion that “common” standards would lead to de facto federal curricula, something they say neither they nor their national-standards loving friends – including the Obama administration – want.

At this point, who’s buying this? True, it’s possible that Fordham and friends might really not want a federal curriculum – I can’t read minds – but the federal government through Race to the Top has already bribed states into adopting the Common Core standards; Washington is paying for the development of national tests; and the Obama administration’s “blueprint” for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind would make national standards the law’s accountability backbone. So even if you don’t want this to lead to a federal curriculum, that is exactly what you are going to get. If the feds use money taken from taxpayers to force states to adopt national standards and tests, and if Washington rewards or punishes states based on those tests, then you have a federal curriculum. I mean, if it walks like a duck…

The good news in Fordham’s response, perhaps, is that they appear to have responded to my challenge to loudly renounce any federal funding for national standards and related material if they really want this to be voluntary. Unfortunately, they’ve responded with a resounding “no”: Finn and Petrilli write that “we have no particular concern with the federal government…helping to pay” for the creation of curricular guides and other material and activities to go with national standards.

This happiness to keep the feds paying pretty much puts the final rip in the tissue-thin “voluntarism” ruse. But if you’re not satisfied with my analysis, try this post over at Jay Greene’s blog, in which Jay reproduces a terrific fill-in-the-blanks analysis of Fordham’s tricky prose by Charles Miller, former chair of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas and a very astute observer of education politics. Let’s just say, he writes what I suspect everyone who is familiar with the federal government – and Fordham – is thinking.

One last thing bears mentioning. In defense of Finn and Petrilli, they do get one thing right: they take a lot of the counter-manifesto signatories to task for having pushed hard for state-level centralization while decrying such top-down control at the federal level. Of course, Fordham ignores little things like “federalism” and the “Constitution” with this argument, but it is true that a government monopoly is likely to be dreadful whether at the state or national level. Then again, they don’t actually make that argument either, so they’re actually just trying to score lame hypocrisy points. And they follow that with this cheapest of shots at libertarians and, well, any Americans who would like to have control over what their children learn:

Some libertarian signers of the counter-manifesto may indeed believe that we should let schools, districts, and parents make every single educational decision no matter how irresponsible, hare-brained, or even harmful to kids.

Why, that’s exactly what libertarians think! When contemplating policy, we’ve given no consideration to whether individuals will overall make better decisions than special-interest dominated government, or looked at the empirical evidence that education is better the more decentralized control is, or considered the value of freedom in society, or anything like that. We’re just mindlessly wedded to liberty and don’t care who gets hurt.

At last, the leaders of the national-standards-driving Fordham Institute have demonstrated – if not fully said – exactly what they think.  It is not a very comforting vision.