Over at Flypaper, Chester Finn suggests that people like me are either crazy or on the verge of it for fearing that the Shanker Institute’s “common content” manifesto might very well be another step toward federal control of American education.
“Over in the more feverish corners of the blogosphere, and sometimes even in saner locales,” he writes, “the Shanker Institute’s call for ‘common content’ curriculum to accompany the Common Core standards has triggered a panic attack.”
Now, I wouldn’t say “panic attack.” To panic is to “be overcome by a sudden fear,” but I’ve been watching the move toward federal curriculum control for some time. Back in 2008 many of the groups behind the Common Core called for Washington to “incentivize” adoption of national standards. In 2009, the Obama administration made adopting common standards critical to compete in the so‐called Race to the Top. In 2010, the administration put common standards front‐and‐center in the accountability piece of its No Child Left Behind reauthorization blueprint. Finally, that same year the U.S. Department of Education chose two consortia to develop national assessments to go with national standards. So when I read the Shanker Institute’s proposal, with its recommendation that the federal government spend taxpayer money to help implement “purely voluntary” curriculum “guidelines,” I didn’t panic. I saw the same obvious movement toward federal curriculum control I’d been observing for years.
But maybe I am a bit “feverish.” Maybe I do need to chillax a bit. Thankfully, I know just the thing to help me do that: National‐standards fans should pronounce publicly and unequivocally — perhaps issue another manifesto! — that they do not want federal money in any way connected to common standards, and state that they will oppose any effort to “incentivize,” “support,” “cajole,” “threaten,” or do anything else to states or districts to push them to adopt common curricula. Were national‐standards champions to do that — you know, just demand that all this be as purely voluntary as they say it is — and I and others like me would no doubt be well on the road to recovery.
Somehow, I don’t expect my forehead to cool off anytime soon.
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.