Tag: national governors association

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.  

 

Remember When National Standards Were Going to be “Voluntary”?

In a speech today to the National Governors’ Association, President Obama proposed that states do exactly as he tells them regarding national education standards, or his government will take their people’s money and not give it back. The applause was… light.

Under the president’s preferred reform to federal education law, states would have to bring their curriculum standards into line with his administration’s wishes or they would be denied their share of the $14.5 billion education program known as “Title 1.”

But of course taxpayers in every state must pay for Title 1, whether or not the administration deigns to allow their children to participate. So the president wants to take their money and only give it back if they do as he says. The closest word I can think of to describe this arrangement is… extortion.

I’m fairly sure that’s not a central value underlying American greatness, but there’s another political entity that it does evoke.

Will a False Crisis Revive REAL ID?

I’ve written here before about how the National Governors Association is seeking to peddle state power over driver licensing and identification to the federal government in order to cement its role as a supplicant for states in Washington, D.C.

NGA is currently seeking to drum up a false, end-of-year driver license crisis to convince Congress to pass a new version of REAL ID called PASS ID, moving the national ID project forward.

The letter says that states must be “materially compliant” with the REAL ID Act by the end of the year or their citizens will not be able to use their driver’s licenses as identification to board commercial aircraft. This is technically true, in one sense, but it omits some important information.

The statutory deadline for REAL ID compliance was actually a year and a half ago, May of 2008. No state was in compliance then, and the Department of Homeland Security gave out deadline extensions wholesale—even to states that didn’t ask for them.

If Congress takes no action by the end of the year, the DHS will simply do this again. There is no end-of-year driver license crisis.

And it’s no harm, no foul—nobody who has studied identity-based security believes that the national ID law would cost-effectively protect the country. Ignoring or repealing REAL ID are the best paths forward.

The NGA, of course, believes that states will be better off with its preferred version of REAL ID. Some of the sharpest corners are taken off REAL ID in the new ”PASS ID“ version, but states are kidding themselves if they think PASS ID is good for their bottom lines.

As I wrote beforetwice!—PASS ID is likely to cost states as much or more than REAL ID. Its requirements are essentially the same, and its implementation deadline—one of the biggest cost drivers—is tighter in some respects than REAL ID.

Will Congress slip PASS ID into law by the end of the year the way REAL ID was slipped into law four-plus years ago? It’ll be interesting to see…

Recapping the Costs of the REAL ID Revival Bill

In late July, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a new version of PASS ID, the REAL ID revival bill. I’ve posted about various dimensions of it: the national ID question, the politics of PASS ID, whether PASS ID protects privacy, a run-down of the Senate hearing on it, and the inexplicable support of the Center for Democracy and Technology for this national ID law.

Three months later, the committee still has not reported the bill, meaning that the public doesn’t get access to the version the committee passed. (A resolution in the House would require committees there to publish amendments to bills within 24 hours.) But the Congressional Budget Office scored the bill this week. That is often a signal that legislation is on the move.

So it’s a good time to look at costs again. The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures both premised their support for PASS ID on the idea that it would reduce costs to states to just $2 billion.

But in July I examined the likely costs of PASS ID and NGA’s cost calculations. To save you a burdensome click, here are some highlights:

But there is reason to doubt [the NGA’s $2 billion] figure. PASS ID is a lot more like REAL ID — the original REAL ID — in the way that most affects costs: the implementation schedule.

Under PASS ID, the DHS would have to come up with regulations in just nine months. States would then have just one year to begin complying. All drivers’ licenses would have to be replaced in the five years after that. That’s a total of six years to review the documents of every driver and ID holder, and issue them new cards.

How did the NGA come up with $2 billion? Maybe they took the extended, watered-down, 75%-over-ten-years estimate and subtracted some for reduced IT costs. (The NGA is free to publish its methodology, of course.)

But the costs of implementing PASS ID to states are more likely to be closer to $11 billion than the $2 billion figure that the NGA puts forward. In just six years, PASS ID would send some 245 million people into DMV offices around the country demanding new cards. States will have to hire and train new employees to handle the workload. They will have to acquire new computer systems, documents scanners, data storage facilities, and so on.

The NGA’s claim of savings from PASS ID is weak. Did the new CBO score change anything?

First, let’s review what a CBO score is. When CBO scores a bill, it reports how a bill will change costs to the federal government. Other CBO reports may include overall costs for federal programs, but when CBO scores a bill, it just reports the difference between current federal spending and spending if a new proposal should pass. CBO sometimes mentions mandates on states and private-sector costs in their bill-scores, but those are rarely if ever thoroughly reported. CBO’s wheelhouse is federal spending, and that’s what it reports.

Now, let’s look at how CBO has done with estimating the costs to states from implementing federal national ID standards.

Its first cut at scoring national ID standards was when it looked at H.R. 10 in the latter stages of the 108th Congress. (This was before REAL ID — H.R. 10 was an early version of the bill that became law as the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.) When CBO scored H.R. 10 in late 2004, it lumped national ID standards along with several other policies and programs in a category called ”Mandates With no Significant Costs.”

Four months later, in early 2005, CBO scored the REAL ID Act, which had been introduced early in the new Congress. It found then that the national ID standards Congress had put into law in December had changed from a mandate with “no significant costs” to a mandate costing more than $100 million.

CBO thought REAL ID would only cost $20 million more than that, an amount below the reporting threshold of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, so CBO did not do a thorough analysis.

Then the folks actually faced with implementing it took a look at REAL ID. More realistic estimates of costs to states in the $10+ billion range came forward, including an estimate from the National Governors Association, as I discussed in my previous post on costs.

With that background we’re ready to look at the CBO score for PASS ID. CBO makes no precise estimate of costs to states. Its specialty, again, is federal spending. But it makes a few observations about such costs:

  • “The bill would require states to issue public notices about their security and privacy policies that include information about how personally identifiable information is used, stored, accessed, and shared.”

This, all should agree, is a complex problem but a small cost.

  • “The bill also would require states to have a process that would allow individuals to access, amend, and correct their information. Information from groups representing state governments [NGA and NCSL, most likely] indicates that most states currently have such policies and procedures, though some may need to be revised.”

No. They. Do. Not.

As I said in my post on the privacy consequences of PASS ID:

This is a new and different security/identity fraud challenge not found in REAL ID, and the states have no idea what they’re getting themselves into if they try to implement such a thing. A May 2000 report from a panel of experts convened by the Federal Trade Commission was bowled over by the complexity of trying to secure information while giving people access to it. Nowhere is that tension more acute than in giving the public access to basic identity information.

No state has opened its driver databases for review and correction by the public. That would be an all-you-can-eat buffet for identity fraudsters. The CBO has been bamboozled about state policies.

But the language of PASS ID finesses this, doesn’t it? It says that opening up identity data and giving the public correction rights would be done “as determined appropriate by the State.” So states wouldn’t really have to do anything, right? Right!

Except that the Department of Homeland Security gets to interpret what that language means, and a court will defer to any reasonable DHS interpretation. That’s the Supreme Court’s Chevron doctrine. (It’s an unfortunate abdication of power to administrative agencies, but it’s the law today.)

If the NGA and NCSL have told their clients that they will have the last word on how PASS IS is implemented, they are wrong. It’s DHS’ call — not states’. There may be huge costs to states — hidden at first, but growing and growing — if they stick their heads into the jaws of the federal lion.

Returning to the CBO’s assessment of state costs:

  • “The bill would repeal the requirements of the REAL ID Act and replace them with more flexible requirements for issuing compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards.”

This is true in some respects, and not in others. As I noted before, PASS ID is on a tighter implementation schedule which is the main driver of costs.

  • “The bill also would authorize appropriations that could be used to pay for those requirements, and it would prohibit the federal government from charging fees to states to access the SAVE and SSOLV data systems.”

Because it’s federal, this is something that CBO actually knows about, and its assessment is that PASS ID would dole out a total of $123 million to states over the next five years. Washington, D.C.’s highest spending year would be fiscal 2013, in which it would spend $39 million, less than $1 million per state.

And those savings when the federal government doesn’t charge states for using its databases? Just $2 million each year in fiscal 2010 and 2011.

Nothing in the CBO estimate changes the conclusion that implementing a national ID would cost states over $10 billion dollars, as they hired new staff, acquired new equipment and systems, and marched 250 million Americans through their DMVs. The federal government is promising to dole out $123 million and offer states a whopping $4 million in savings on data access.

The National Governors Association’s argument that PASS ID reduces costs to states is ludicrous. And the paltry funds Congress might share with states is a drop in the bucket. The homeland security appropriations bill for fiscal 2010 cuts funding for REAL ID by $40 million from its 2009 funding level. PASS ID would fare no better.

State governors and legislatures that have fallen for the PASS ID cost estimates of the National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures should fire these financial advisors. NGA and NCSL are trying to grow federal power at the expense of state coffers.

The Best Defense against National Standards? Hearing about National Standards

I’ll admit it: When I go to an event intended to tout an idea I think is wrong, I get a little nervous. What if I hear an argument that’s so convincing it forces me to totally reevaluate my position? All my work will have been for naught! Well, I had just such worries as I headed toward the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s “International Evidence about National Standards” conference yesterday.

I needn’t have worried. What I heard made me even more certain that imposing national academic standards – whether through state compacts, or worse, “incentivized” with federal dollars – is doomed to failure, just as I have been saying for years.

First, there’s likely political failure. Yes, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other high-profile education folks have recently been talking about the need for common standards – or at least the folly of having 50 different state standards – and many people think national standards would be great. But though people may love the idea of national standards, when it comes to actually creating and implementing them, love quickly turns to anger.

The second panel of the day, featuring Dane Linn of the National Governors Association and Gene Wilhoit of the Council of Chief State School Officers – whose organizations are working together to create national standards – made this abundantly clear. While people at the conference might have agreed that national standards are peachy in theory, they couldn’t agree at all on who should write them. Indeed, they couldn’t even agree on their general shape: While Linn and Wilhoit stressed the need for higher and narrower standards, the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli, who moderated the panel, said that his group, the conference convener, could very well find itself opposing narrow standards that include too little.

If you can’t get people who really believe that we need national standards to agree on even their basic shape, why would anyone think that they could get a majority of Americans to agree on a single standard?

Of course, this was a conference supposedly about the international evidence concerning national standards. Even though the domestic political outlook for national standards appears poor, surely the evidence from abroad would conclusively demonstrate the need for national standards.

Hardly. If anything, the international evidence panel was the least persuasive part of the conference.

The hub of the panel was Michigan State University professor William Schmidt, who argued energetically against the illogical, weak standards of most American states – certainly a valid point. But he offered no compelling reasoning or evidence whatsoever to suggest that national standards would be any better than state standards. Indeed, moderator Ben Wildavsky knocked out Schmidt’s entire argument with just two punches, asking if there is empirical evidence that national standards produce better outcomes, and why Canada – which doesn’t have national standards – does very well on international comparisons. Schmidt’s answers: Almost every country participating in international exams has national standards, so it’s impossible to credit those standards with either good or bad outcomes, and Canadian provinces are kind of like countries.

If that’s the best evidence one can muster for national standards – essentially, no evidence – then there is absolutely zero good reason to support national standards.

Unfortunately, that really does seem to be all the evidence. At least, it’s all that was brought out yesterday. Which is why, though the conference didn’t force me to change my views, it did make me reach some very disheartening conclusions. Primarily, that many people support national standards simply because they are easier to conceptualize than multiple standards, and because they think that they – not people they dislike – will get to write the new, inescapable, standards for all.

The REAL ID Revival Bill Should Not Get a PASS

A draft Senate bill to revive the REAL ID Act has been leaked to to the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, and they find it wanting.

The bill is an attempt to smooth down REAL ID and make the national ID law more palatable. CIS is unhappy because they want a national ID implemented right away.

REAL ID is, of course, failing. Just ten months ago, the Bush Administration’s Secretary of Homeland Security granted waivers to every state in the country - not a single one of them was in compliance by the May, 2008 deadline, and several have statutorily barred themselves from complying.

Legislation to repeal REAL ID in both the House and Senate was introduced in the last Congress, but with an administration and Department of Homeland Security eager to demagogue the issue against a Democratic Congress, that legislation did not move. Repealing REAL ID would not have the same problem in the current Congress.

But since then, Washington’s wheels have been turning. The National Governors Association has turned into an advocate of reviving REAL ID because it hopes that federal dollars will flow behind federal mandates. They won’t, but reviving REAL ID will cement NGA’s role as a beggar for federal dollars in Washington. (Maybe other state legislator groups, as well.)

Everbody in Washington, D.C. salivates over the chance to make “deals” even if that means switching positions on issues of principle like whether the U.S. should have a national ID. We’ll be watching to see which political leaders reverse themselves and support this attempt at a national ID for their love of political dealmaking.

The working name of the REAL ID revival bill is the “PASS ID Act.” It should not be given a pass by opponents of a U.S. national ID and the REAL ID Act.