Tag: Arne Duncan

‘Say I Threatened You Again, And You’ll Really Be Sorry!’

Apparently, if you try to undo something the feds want you to do, they’ll slap you around until you confess they’ve never threatened you. At least, that’s how Education Secretary Arne Duncan rolls when it comes to national curriculum standards:

Following is a statement by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on a legislative proposal in South Carolina to block implementation of the Common Core academic standards:

“The idea that the Common Core standards are nationally-imposed is a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy. The Common Core academic standards were both developed and adopted by the states, and they have widespread bipartisan support. GOP leaders like Jeb Bush and governors Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and Bill Haslam have supported the Common Core standards because they realize states must stop dummying down academic standards and lying about the performance of children and schools. In fact, South Carolina lowered the bar for proficiency in English and mathematics faster than any state in the country from 2005 to 2009, according to research by the National Center for Education Statistics.

“That’s not good for children, parents, or teachers. I hope South Carolina lawmakers will heed the voices of teachers who supported South Carolina’s decision to stop lowering academic standards and set a higher bar for success. And I hope lawmakers will continue to support the state’s decision to raise standards, with the goal of making every child college- and career-ready in today’s knowledge economy.”

I don’t really need to go any further than the statement itself to prove that, contrary to “Fat Tony” Duncan’s protestations, it is not a “conspiracy theory” to say that the Common Core is “nationally imposed.” But let’s rehearse the litany one more time:

  • In 2008 the National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc.—the main Common Core architects—called for federal “incentives” to get states to adopt “a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts.”
  • President Obama’s $4.35-billion Race to the Top required that states, to be fully competitive for grants, adopt national standards.
  • Race to the Top contained $330 million that Washington is using to fund development of two national tests to go with the Common Core.
  • The President’s “blueprint” to reauthorize No Child Left Behind would make national standards the backbone of federal accountability.
  • To get waivers from No Child Left Behind’s most onerous provisions, a state has to either adopt the Common Core or have a state college system declare that the state’s standards are “college- and career-ready.” Of course, this came after almost every state had already adopted the Common Core.

Why is Duncan lashing out? Quite possibly, he’s reacting to a recent spate of research and commentary attacking the Common Core based on its highly dubious legality, quality, and odds of success. That South Carolina is considering backing out—though the Palmetto State effort fell short in a Senate subcommittee—might have pushed Duncan over the edge. I mean, how dare those people try to buck what Duncan and his boss were not in any way trying to get them to do!

Unfortunately, as failure in the South Carolina committee reinforces—and I warned last week—it is unlikely that many states will formally boot what they’ve already adopted. The time to fight to keep the Common Core out of states was before Race to the Top decisions were made, as we at the Center for Educational Freedom did. Of course, it was off most people’s radars during that crucial time because that was exactly what national-standards supporters wanted. And it’s what their ongoing dissembling about Washington’s heavy hand is intended to continue.

Thankfully, that strategy seems to not be working so well anymore.

Reality, Meet Education Policy. Education Policy, Please, Meet Reality!

Nobody wants to be the guy – especially the Congress-guy – who says that we need to cut education spending. Nobody wants to be the target of attacks from both the well-intentioned and politically opportunistic that they hate children, only care about “the rich,” or any of the other deviousness  that long ago snuck up behind reasoned debate, threw a rope around its neck,  and pulled it backwards.

That’s been proven again today.

If you address it honestly, it’s nearly impossible to deny that federal education meddling has been not just a failure, but a failure with all sorts of bizzaro tendencies. Just look at today’s big edu-news story: Several months ago, Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned that this year 82 percent of the nation’s public schools would be identified as failing under the No Child left Behind Act.  A lot of people smelled pure politics behind the pronouncement – the administration wanted to unilaterally issue waivers from the law in exchange for states adopting POTUS-dictated policies – and today the Center on Education Policy released a report finding that only about 48 percent of schools “need improvement” under NCLB.

Wait, 48 percent? Isn’t that still really high?

It certainly seems so, but who the heck even knows? Every state sets its own standards-and-testing regime and most appear to have gamed the system wildly to stay out of trouble. So are all our schools failing? Half? And what even constitutes failing? No one knows, and few politicians appear willing to talk straight about it. (Of course, most probably have no idea what should constitute math and reading “proficiency” – the law’s goal – to begin with. Indeed, it’s an extremely subjective designation for anyone to make, though some in Washington act like they pretty much know what it is.)

Obviously, no sane individual would ever construct a system like this. But politically, all this illusion and contortion makes sense: Every politician wants to be seen as the savior of our children, but never wants the abuse that would come with creating and enforcing high standards, or being honest about progress made – or not made – under his or her watch. So we get all this sound, fury, and when you compare spending to test scores, educational nothing: 


Now, you’d think just the sheer lunacy of federal education policy making would make it clear to all that Washington should get out of education. And if that didn’t do it, the abysmal track record absolutely would. But no: Today the U.S. House of Representatives – the legislative body supposedly full of angry, tea-guzzling Republicans – produced their FY 2012 appropriations bill. And by how much did they cut the U.S. Department of Education budget? 20 percent? 2 percent? No, a microscopic 0.2 percent! A $153 million quark out of a $71.3 billion whale!

While office holders are wrongly considered our leaders by some – they are, in fact, our employees – you’d hope they’d lead a bit by ignoring short-term political consequences and cutting utterly failed programs. But that would be the triumph of hope over reality; politicians are as self-interested as anyone else, and will generally do only those things that help them keep or gain votes. So what must happen is that the public gets intimately familiar with the sick reality of federal education policy and votes based on it. And that means those of us at Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, and others who know the truth, must do a better job of getting that word out and helping education policy to finally meet reality.

Sen. Rubio to Sec. Duncan: Dear Sir, Obey the Law

Senator Marco Rubio has just written to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, requesting that he not break the law. At issue is the administration’s plan to offer states waivers from the No Child Left Behind act if they agree to adopt national standards or pursue other educational goals of the administration. Rubio states that these conditional waivers violate the U.S. Constitution, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act. He’s right.

As my Cato colleagues and I have noted many times, the Constitution mentions neither the word “school” nor the word “education,” and so, under the 10th Amendment, reserves power over those concerns to the states and the people.

The Act creating the Department of Education is equally clear:

No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system… .[Section 3403(b)]

Nor is the NCLB particularly ambiguous:

‘Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s specific instructional content, academic achievement standards and assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction. [Section 1905]

The Secretary’s conditional waivers from NCLB mandates, in return for dancing as he desires on national standards, seem to violate all of the above. I wonder if any education reporter will have the temerity to ask Arne Duncan on what grounds he believes he is entitled to ignore these laws? Senator Rubio’s letter certainly gives them a golden opportunity to do so.

Rick Perry, Arne Duncan, and Michael Jackson

To my astonishment, Arne Duncan went after Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry yesterday on the grounds that Perry hasn’t done enough to improve the schools under his jurisdiction. According to Bloomberg News, Duncan said public schools have “really struggled” under Perry and that “Far too few of [the state’s] high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college.”

I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan, but for some reason his “Man in the Mirror” track just popped into my head as I read this. You see, once upon a time, Arne Duncan was “CEO” of the Chicago Public Schools. During and for some time after his tenure, he was celebrated as having presided over “The Chicago Miracle,” in which local students’ test results had improved dramatically. That fact turns out to have been fake, but accurate. The state test results did improve, but not because students had learned more; they appear to have improved because the tests were dumbed-down.

When this charge was first leveled, I decided to look into it myself, and found that it was indeed justified. There was no “Chicago Miracle.” Arne Duncan ascended to the throne of U.S. secretary of education, at least in part, on a myth. The academic achievement of the children under his care stagnated at or slightly below the level of students in other large central cities during his time at the helm. Seems an opportune occasion for someone to “start with the man in the mirror, asking him to change his ways.”

Imposing National Standards

Next month, the Obama Administration will begin granting waivers to states that are not on track to meet proficiency requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be granting these waivers selectively, based mostly on states’ willingness to abide by new executive branch mandates not included in NCLB, likely including adopting national curriculum standards.

Duncan has the authority under NCLB to grant waivers, but not to compel states to jump through administration hoops in order to earn them, as Neal McCluskey has documented clearly.

As Neal notes in today’s Cato Daily Podcast, essentially imposing national standards – as well as other potential waiver demands – represents a large-scale assertion of federal executive power over local education:

We’ve broken any semblance of a Constitutional balance of power between the executive and the legislative branch. Now the President is just going to dictate to every school what they’re going to teach. And that is a giant threat to freedom and to the American education system.

A broader recognition that the Constitution grants neither Congress nor the President any role in education would go a long way toward fixing these problems. NCLB may be, to quote Arne Duncan, “a slow-motion train wreck,” but using that law to transfer power away from parents, states and Congress is easily a solution worse than the problem.

From Avoiding the National Curriculum Debate, to Smothering It, Just When We Need It Most

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush cares about education. He made major education reforms in the Sunshine State, including many centered on private school choice. He has established the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and dedicates much of his time to education reform. Unfortunately, when it comes to national curriculum standards, it seems his genuine caring has led him to avoid—and now attempt to quash—critical debate on both the dubious merits of national standards, and the huge threats to federalism posed by Washington driving the standards train.

As I’ve complained on numerous occasions, it’s clear that supporters of national standards have employed a stealth strategy to get their way: back-room drafting of standards, content-free Language Arts, and, especially, employing the maddening mantra that national standardization is “state-led and voluntary.” Sadly, you can now add quashing debate to that, even among conservatives and libertarians with longstanding and crucial federalism and efficacy concerns. And according to Education Week, it appears that Jeb Bush—whose foundation just a couple of years ago invited me to participate in a panel discussion on national standards—is taking point on the smothering strategy:

In this space, we’ve been telling you about a few efforts in state legislatures to complicate adoption or implementation of common standards … A move that had the potential to involve many states unfolded last week in New Orleans, but was stopped in its tracks. And none other than former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, revered by many conservatives, was involved in stopping it.

The Education Week report links to a letter that Mr. Bush sent to a subcommittee of the American Legislative Exchange Council that was slated to simply take up discussion of model legislation opposing national standards. Mr. Bush urged members to table the proposal. In other words, he urged them to not even talk about it, because apparently even considering that the Common Core might have dangerous downsides should be avoided, even among people who believe in individualism and liberty.

Unfortunately, quashing debate arguably wasn’t the worst aspect of Mr. Bush’s letter. No, that was the fundamentally flawed pretenses he offered for why Common Core should be embraced without debate. 

For starters, the letter assumes that Common Core represents “rigorous academic standards,” an assumption challenged by several curriculum experts. Underlying that are the illogical  assumptions that there can be a monolithic standard that is best for all children no matter how un-monolithic children are, and that the creators of the Common Core know what the “best” standards are. Add to these things that there is no meaningful empirical support for the notion that national standards lead to better outcomes, and from a purely pragmatic standpoint not only should there be strong, public debate over national standards, there must be.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of Bush’s letter, though, is that he repeats the ”state-led and voluntary” falsehood, and does so just as the Obama administration is preparing to force states to adopt national standards if they want relief from the disastrous No Child Left Behind Act. Writes Bush:

There is concern that this initiative will result in Washington dictating what standards, assessments and curriculum states may use. But these voluntarily adopted standards define what students need to know without defining how teachers should teach or students should learn.

Adoption of the Common Core is not ”voluntary,” any more than is handing over your wallet to a mugger. The federal government takes tax dollars from taxpayers whether they like it or not, and tells states that if they want to get any of it back they must “voluntarily” adopt federal rules. It’s what the $4 billion Race to the Top did for national standards. It’s what U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he, for all intents and purposes, will do with NCLB waivers. And it is how failed, bankrupting  federal education policy has been imposed for decades.  And lest we forget, Washington is spending $350 million on national tests to go with the Common Core, which the Obama administration wants to make the accountability backbone of a reauthorized NCLB.

So no, this is not voluntary. Nor is it state-led: state legislatures represent their people, but the groups that ran the Common Core State Standards Initiative were unelected professional associations—the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.

I have no doubt that Jeb Bush has the best interests of children at heart. But even the best of intentions don’t countenance avoiding or snuffing out open debate over public policy, especially a policy as riddled with holes as national curriculum standards. Add to that our standing on the verge of unprecedented, unconstitutional federal control of our schools, and this debate must be had now, and it must be had so that all may hear it.  


Rahm Emanuel Practices School Choice… Grouchily

Chicago’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has followed in the footsteps of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, choosing to send his kids to the elite private UC Lab School. It’s a very good school by all accounts, so it’s probably an excellent choice. So why did Rahm get so grouchy when asked about it?

I think it might have something to do with the obvious hypocrisy of cherishing and exercising educational choice for one’s own kids while advocating a one-size fits-few state monopoly school system that makes private schooling unaffordable to the majority of your fellow citizens. Just a thought.