Tag: federal money

Hey, National Curriculum Standardizers: Stop Lying to Us!

Today, a group of seventy-five national-standards crusaders released a manifesto calling for “shared curriculum guidelines” to accompany the Common Core State Standards. But don’t worry, the petitioners assure us, “use of the kinds of curriculum guidelines that we advocate in the core academic subjects would be purely voluntary.”

Oh please, please – stop lying to us!

Here’s the only absolutely clear thing that we’ve learned so far from the national standards push: Leading national standardizers do not want adoption of their plans to be truly voluntary.

Sure, they talk about creating mere “guidelines,” and states being free to choose what they’ll use, but they know reality full well: Whatever Washington connects to federal money becomes de facto mandatory, and they most certainly want their guidelines riveted to federal bucks.

Don’t believe me? Look no further than the federal Race to the Top program, which required that states adopt what for much of the time were unpublished national standards in order to meaningfully compete for part of $4.35 billion in federal dough.

“But wait”, standards mavens assert. “We didn’t ask for that and we really regret that the administration federalized our warm-and-fuzzy voluntary effort.”

Sorry, no dice.  Many of these same people had been calling for federal funds to push national standards before there ever was a Race to the Top, or even an official Obama administration. In December 2008, national standards advocates put out Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring Students Receive a World-class Education, which among other things called for Washington to “offer a range of tiered incentives to make the next stage of the journey [toward national standards] easier.”

In this latest assault on honesty, the national standards crowd has done it again. You have to read their entire statement, but at the bottom you’ll find words that make it clear that “the undersigned” have no intention of having adoption of their guidelines be truly voluntary. They want Washington forcing states to eat the new curricula if states want back some of the money that came involuntarily from their citizens. The last of their ”recommendations” calls for:

7. Increasing federal investments in implementation support, in comparative international studies related to curriculum and instruction, and in evaluations aimed at finding the most effective curriculum sequences, curriculum materials, curricular designs, and instructional strategies.

You want this to be truly voluntary? Then you’d better keep federal money, especially for such things as “implementation support,” out of it. But by all indications national standardizers don’t want this to be truly voluntary. They just want us thinking they do.

Why is Waiting for “Superman” Pushing Kryptonite?

You’ve probably heard it already, but if not, you should know that on Friday the documentary Waiting for “Superman” – from An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim – will be opening in select theaters around the country. The film, about how hard it is to access good education in America thanks to adults putting their interests first, follows several children as they hope beyond hope to get into oversubscribed charter schools. It is said by those who’ve seen it to be a tear-jerker and call to arms to substantially reform American education.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t promote real, essential reform: Taking money away from special-interest dominated government schools and letting parents control it.

The movie does flirt – from what I know, that is, without having yet seen it – with school choice, lionizing charter schools. But let’s not forget that while many charter schools and their founders have tremendous vision and drive, charters are still public schools, and as such are easily smothered by politically potent special interests like teacher unions. Moreover, while charter schools are chosen, charter schooling still keeps money – and therefore power – out of the hands of parents. Together, these things  explain why there are so many heartbreaking charter lotteries to film: there is almost no ability or incentive to scale up good schooling models to meet all the desperate demand.  

But isn’t the goal for no child to have to wait for Superman? If so, then why not give parents the power to choose good schools (and leave bad ones) right now by instituting widespread school choice? Indeed, we’re quickly losing room in good institutions because parochial schools – which have to charge tuition to stay in business – simply can’t compete with “free” alternatives. If we were to let parents control education funds immediately, however, they could get their kids into those disappearing seats while the seats are  still around, and we would finally have the freedom and consumer-driven demand necessary to see good schools widely replicated.

Unfortunately, Waiting for “Superman” doesn’t just seem to want to make people wait for good schools by promoting charter schools and not full choice. On its “take action” website, it prominently promotes the very opposite of parent empowerment: Uniform, government-imposed, national standards for every public school in America.

Rather than let parents access the best curriculum for their unique children, the Waiting for “Superman” folks want to give the federal government power. Of course, the website doesn’t say that Washington will control “common” standards, but make no mistake: Federal money has been driving the national standards train, and what Washington funds, it ultimately controls. And there is no better way to complete the public schooling monopoly – to let the teacher unions, administrator associations, and other adult interests do one-stop shopping for domination – than to centralize power in one place.

The people behind Waiting for “Superman” are no doubt well intentioned, and their film worth seeing. But pushing kryptonite is pushing kryptonite, and it has to be stopped.

Fordham Feeds the Paranoia

You might recall several weeks back when Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, called people like me “paranoid” for seeing federal money driving states to adopt national education standards as cause for serious concern that (a) the feds will take over schools’ curricula, and (b) the new federal curriculum will be taken over by potent special interests like teachers’ unions. (You know, the kinds of special interests that can get Democrats to give them $10 billion by cutting food stamps.) Well, in last week’s Education Gadfly, Fordham published a piece by Eugenia Kemble, president of the union-dedicated Albert Shanker Institute, saying that national standards demand a national curriculum.

This interesting little happening – Fordham publishing a piece by a union stalwart arguing that a national curriculum must go with national standards – didn’t go unnoticed by fellow paranoiac Greg Forster, who is now in a blog dispute with Kemble. It makes for telling reading, especially Kemble’s rejoinder. It features an all-too-casual use of the charged term “balkanization” to seemingly describe anything not centralized, and utterly fails to mention federal funding when implying that the common standards push is state led and voluntary.

Unfortunately, Kemble mainly just sidesteps Forster’s primary point: Fordham has provided yet more evidence that national standards funded by the feds will lead to  a national curriculum that could very well be controlled by special interests. Heck, Fordham is in league with at least one component of the teachers’ unions here, which is fine if they share the same goals. All Forster is trying to emphasize is that it is ridiculous to call people crazy when they simply point out what so much evidence seems to show.

The National Standards Delusion

As Massachusetts nears decision time on adopting national education standards, the Boston Herald takes state leaders to task for their support of the Common Core standards, which some analysts say are inferior to current state standards. But fear not, says Education Secretary Paul Reville. If the national standards are inferior, the Bay State can change them. “We will continue to be in the driver’s seat.”

If only national standardizers – many of whom truly want high standards and tough accountability – would look a little further than the ends of their beaks.

Here’s the reality: Massachusetts will not be in the drivers seat in the future. Indeed, states aren’t in the driver’s seat right now, because it is federal money that is steering the car, and many more DC ducats will likely be connected to national standards when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is eventually reauthorized. And this is hardly new or novel – the feds have forced “voluntary” compliance with its education dictates for decades by holding taxpayer dollars hostage.

With that in mind, let’s stop focusing on whether the Common Core standards right now are good, bad, or indifferent, and talk about their future prospects, which is what really matters. Oh, wait: Most national standardizers avoid that discussion like the plague because they know that the overwhelming odds are the standards will end up either dismal, or at best just unenforced. Why? Because the same political forces that have smushed centralized standards and accountability in almost every state – the teacher unions, administrator associations, self-serving politicians, etc. – will just do their dirty work at the federal rather than state level. Indeed, those groups will still be the most motivated and effectively organized to control education politics, but they will have the added benefit of one-stop shopping!

The tragic flaw in the thinking of many national-standards supporters is not the desire to create high bars for students to clear, but the utter delusion, or maybe just myopia, that allows them to assume that they will control the standards in a monopoly over which, by its very nature, they almost never hold the reins. It’s fantastical thinking that would actually be pitiable were it not for the fact that, to realize their delusional dreams, they have take us all down with them.

Last Stand in Massachusetts?

As national education standards continue their hushed and rushed adoption process, there may be only one chance left to significantly slow them down: Massachusetts.

The Bay State is seen by national-standards supporters as having the toughest mathematics and language arts standards in the nation, and if Mass refuses to adopt the Common Core standards on the grounds that they’re not up to the state’s high snuff, then national standards will lose a very high profile state.  It certainly wouldn’t be the end of the line for national standards – lots of federal money coercing adoption will see to that – but it would be a relatively high-profile, and maybe even attention-grabbing, loss.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts is on the same eye-blink adoption schedule as every other state trying to get Race to the Top bucks, and its Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will be voting on the standards Wednesday. That’s left almost no time for Bay Staters to imbibe the proposed standards, much less analyze them and absorb the analyses. The Pioneer Institute, though, is doing all it can to shed light on the Common Core standards despite the impossible timeline. Today, it published its analysis of the language arts standards, finding that the extant standards of Massachusetts and California are appreciably higher. Tomorrow, it will dissect mathematics.

The sad reality, though, is that Pioneer is likely fighting a stacked, losing battle. As Pioneer executive director Jim Stergios weaves together in a recent blog post, despite the appearance of objective deliberation, the powers-that-be in Massachusetts have been on the national standards bandwagon from the get-go, and they’ve got everything in line to adopt the Common Core. Real debate and deliberation, disappointingly, was probably never in the cards.

At least, though, Pioneer has been able to fire off some shots. With a little luck, maybe they’ll even get a hit on this hyper-sonic target.

Paranoia Roundup

Last week, national standards super-advocate Chester Finn called me “paranoid” for arguing that “common” curriculum standards states adopt in pursuit of federal money will somehow end up being federal and, as a result, bad. Well it seems that Jay Greene and I – the two paranoiacs Finn identified by name – are not alone. Here’s a roundup of some recent rantings from other realists Finn would no doubt accuse of wearing tinfoil helmets:

  • The Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall, cutting through the joke of “voluntary” national-standards adoption and dispelling several of the shallow arguments trotted out by national-standards supporters.
  • The Home School Legal Defense Association, warning that “as homeschoolers know, if the federal government funds something, the federal government is going to control it.”
  • The Pacific Reasearch Institute’s Lance Izumi nailing the voluntarism deception; noting that national standards will have to be paired with national tests (indeed, they’re already in the works); and pointing out that the proposed national standards are likely worse than some state standards.
  • Ben Boychuk of the Heartland Institute going after the big voluntarism lie and explaining how much worse a process national-standards setting is than was even the Texas Social Studies Standoff of 2010.
  • The Pioneer Institutes Jim Stergios exposing the State of Massachusetts’ national-standards trickeration.

It looks like national-standards paranoia is starting to run kinda deep.

Sell Your Soul for What’s Behind Curtain #1?

Would you agree to sell your soul? And not just sell it, but sell it for an undisclosed prize? The states of Maryland and Kentucky would: Both have endorsed as-yet unpublished national curriculum standards for mathematics and language arts, declaring that they will relinquish their ability to set their own standards – to control their own educational souls – in those key subjects.

Alright, maybe they haven’t completely signed away their souls in exchange for what they hope will be supernaturally inspired standards. For one thing, both states could still turn away from the final standards if they end up being utterly horrific. More important, it’s not really the standards that the states are Faustian-bargaining for. As this Washington Post article makes clear, it is the federal money at stake in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top.  So Maryland isn’t about to give up control of it’s educational destiny in exchange for truly extraordinary standards, but a mere $250 million – a big chunk of change to you and me, but just 2% of the nearly $11.1 billion the state spends on K-12 education.

Unfortunately, the transparent protestations of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other national-standards supporters notwithstanding, what is making states endorse such standards is no powerful argument that the standards will improve education, but an obvious pursuit of federal ducats. But is that how we should want education run? States taking standards just to get DC dollars? Unfortunately, being bought by Washington – with no meaningful achievement improvements to show for it – is what states have been doing for decades, though never have they given up their ability to set their own standards.

With that in mind, readers are reminded that on the day that the final, proposed national standards are due to be released, we will be having a debate at Cato that will get past all the bribery and sound bites, and for once tackle the reality of national standards. What logic concludes, political realism makes clear, and the research reveals about national standards will be front and center, and national standards will finally be given the no-holds-barred vetting that states and their citizens deserve.