On NRO today, the Fordham Institute’s Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli take a little time to gloat about the continuing spread of national education standards. In addition, as is their wont, they furnish hollow pronouncements about the Common Core being good as far as standards go, and “a big, modernized country on a competitive planet” needing national standards. Oh, and apparently having counted the opponents of national standards on “the right,” they note that there are just “a half‐dozen libertarians who don’t much care for government to start with.”
Now, there are more than six conservatives and libertarians who have fought national standards. But Finn and Petrilli are sadly correct that most conservatives haven’t raised a finger to stop a federal education takeover — and this is a federal takeover – that they would have screamed bloody murder about ten years ago. There are many reasons for this, but no doubt a big one is that too many conservatives really are big‐government conservatives committed, not to constitutionally constrained government, but controlling government themselves. If they think they can write the national standards, then national standards there should be.
These kinds of conservatives just never learn. As I have explained more times than I care to remember, government schooling will ultimately be controlled by the people it employs because they are the most motivated to engage in education politics. And naturally, their goal will be to stay as free of outside accountability as possible!
This is not theoretical. It is the clear lesson to be learned from the failure of state‐set standards and accountability across the country — not to mention decades of federal education impotence – that Fordhamites constantly bewail. Indeed, Finn and Petrilli lament it again in their NRO piece, complaining that “until now…the vast majority of states have failed to adopt rigorous standards, much less to take actions geared to boosting pupil achievement.” And why is this? Politics! As they explained in their 2006 publication To Dream the Impossible Dream: Four Approaches to National Standards and Tests for America’s Schools:
The state standards movement has been in place for almost fifteen years. For almost ten of those years, we…have reviewed the quality of state standards. Most were mediocre‐to‐bad ten years ago, and most are mediocre‐to‐bad today. They are generally vague, politicized, and awash in wrongheaded fads and nostrums.
At this point, I really have nothing new to say. That political reality will gut national standards while making the public schooling monopoly even worse is clear if you’re willing to acknowledge it. Regretably, the folks at Fordham — and many conservatives — just aren’t. So congratulations on your victory, Fordham. To everyone else, my deepest condolences.
Andrew already blogged about it a bit, but overshadowed by the release of President Obama’s price‐controlling health‐insurance proposal was his speech to the National Governors Association promoting the federal takeover of elementary and secondary school curricula. True, the White House would only require states to adopt some sort of “common” — not national and certainly not federal — standards to get federal funds, but don’t accept the semantic dodge: If the feds are paying, the standards will not only be national, but federal.
Implicit in the President’s proposal, as well as the rhetoric of many national‐standards supporters, is that national standards will necessarily be high standards that push improved academic achievement. Unfortunately, these people have chosen to ignore actual tests of that proposition.
They can no longer: My latest Policy Analysis — Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards – reviews the theoretical and empirical literature and shows that there is simply no convincing evidence that national standards drive higher academic achievement. Couple that with federal meddling in education being clearly unconstitutional, and the next critical battle in the war against Leviathan seems to be shaping up. And this time, we could very well be fighting for our children’s minds.
As I have explained on numerous occasions, supporters of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) -- which would end federal guaranteed student loans, turn everything into lending direct from Uncle Sam, and spend the resulting savings and way much more -- have often shamelessly promoted the bill as a boon to taxpayers when it will almost certainly cost them tens-of-billions. Where they have generally been right is in rebutting criticisms that SAFRA would be a federal takeover of a private industry. With lender profits all but assured under federal guaranteed lending, the vast majority of student loans haven't been truly private for decades.
Unfortunately, SAFRA advocates are just as clueless -- or, more likely, rhetorically unbridled -- about what constitutes a private entity as are status-quo supporters. Case in point, an article in today's Huffington Post that, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, attempts to portray the suddenly rocky road ahead for SAFRA as a result of evil lender lobbyists dropping boulders in the selfless legislation's way:
Taking aim at Sallie Mae, the largest student lender in the country and a driving force behind the lobbying effort, Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday accused the company of using taxpayer funds to lobby and advertise, and cast its executives as white-collar millionaires uninterested in serious education reform.
"Sallie Mae executives have paid themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade while teachers, nurses, and scientists -- the backbone of the new economy -- face crushing debt because of runaway college tuition costs," Duncan said.
Here Sallie Mae is painted in the same ugly hues as Lehman Brothers, AIG, and all the other supposedly rapacious, unscrupulous companies whose unchecked greed, we're told, brought the American economy to its knees. (We also get the baseless but obligatory pronouncement about "crushing debt" for teachers and other toilers for the "public good.")
But wait! Doesn't "Sallie Mae" sound a lot like"Fannie Mae" and "Freddie Mac"? Of course! That's because just like Fannie and Freddie, Sallie was created by the federal government, only with Sallie's job being to furnish lots of cheap college loans. And guess what? Just like Fannie and Freddie, Sallie became by far the biggest kid on her block because her huge federal creator fed her and protected her for decades, not setting her off on her own until 1996. But that part of her story doesn't fit anywhere into the evil corporation narrative, so it's just not mentioned. All we need to know is Sallie is private, her owners and employees make a lot of money, and that is why she is evil and dangerous.
And so the politics of demonization and denial, a staple of the recession blame game, continues. Private institutions are portrayed as malevolent predators and government as a warm, pure, protective father-figure. But there is much more accurate imagery possible when it comes to Sallie Mae: Egomaniacal Dr. Frankenstein furiously blaming the monster he created for doing exactly what he built it to do.
And some wonder why there's such widespread outrage -- the real reason SAFRA is in trouble -- about ever-expanding federal power?
Yesterday, I wrote about President Obama’s proposal to extend the Race to the Top program, this time letting school districts completely bypass state governments and apply directly to the feds for funding. I pointed out that the proposal was one among several troubling signs that Obama intends to put Washington fully — and, of course, unconstitutionally — in charge of American education. At the time, I didn’t realize how right I was.
When I was writing yesterday I was basing my comments on documents from the White House’s website and hadn’t yet read the details of what went on at the President’s photo‐op announcing the proposed extension. I sure wish I had: At the dog‐and‐pony show, the President just came right out and said that he wants to push aside states — mentioned by name was famous holdout Texas — that dared to invoke the Constitution and not participate in a program that was, Constitution or no Constitution, supposed to be voluntary.
“Innovative districts like the one in Texas whose reform efforts are being stymied by state decision‐makers will soon have the chance to earn funding to help them pursue those reforms,” intoned the President.
Fortunately, Texas Governor Rick Perry wasn’t about to be cowed: “I will say this very slow so they will understand it in Washington, D.C.: Texas will fight any attempt by the federal government to take over our school system.”
So it’s pretty certain now, more so even than just 24 hours ago: President Obama wants to federalize American education.
Thankfully, a lot can clearly happen in 24 hours. Yesterday’s election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts could very well send shockwaves of fear through the ranks of Democratic (and maybe even Republican) legislators in DC, who might finally get the message that Americans just don’t like federal takovers. Heck, perhaps even the President will get the message. If so, then maybe even something as relatively small as a $1.35-billion scalpel designed to cut through states and get right at districts could be seen as too dangerous to handle.
That’s speculation, of course, but we should know a lot more in just, oh, the next 24 hours.
In a new column waxing poetic about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration’s efforts to transform American education, Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift suggests that the “right” is not paying attention to the looming “federal takeover of education.” If they were, they’d be screaming their heads off.
Au contraire! We at Cato are paying close attention and screaming (well, raising our voices) about it. In a recent New York Daily News op‐ed, Andrew Coulson inveighs against national academic standards. In Cato’s latest Daily Podcast, I give the down and dirty on the so‐called “Race to the Top” fund controlled by Duncan. And there are many other people on what Clift probably considers the right — libertarians and conservatives lumped together — who are most certainly paying attention. Unfortunately, many on the conservative side actually favor a federal takeover — whether they’ll admit it or not - which might be why Clift doesn’t hear the clamor from the right she’d expect. If anything, she might actually hear some modest — and mistaken — applause.
Howard Stern swore off free broadcast radio in 2004 in part because of federally mandated decency rules. The self-annointed "king of all media" may have stepped off the throne in doing so. Them's the breaks in the competitive media marketplace, contorted as it is by government speech controls.
Some would argue that a new king of all media is seeking the mantle of power now that the Obama administration is ensconced and friendly majorities hold the House and Senate. The new pretender is the federal government.
And some would argue that the Free Press "Changing Media Summit" held yesterday here in Washington laid the groundwork for a new federal takeover of media and communications.
That person is not me. But I am concerned by the enthusiasm of many groups in Washington to "improve" media (by their reckoning) with government intervention.
Free Press issued a report yesterday entitled Dismantling Digital Deregulation. Even the title is a lot to swallow; have communications and media been deregulated in any meaningful sense? (The title itself prioritizes alliteration over logic — evidence of what may come within.)