August 20, 2008 1:41PM

Would Someone Puh‐​leaze Answer This Question?

About a month ago, I piggybacked on an Eduwonk post asking the critical question that lovers of national academic standards refuse to answer: Why would federal standards — especially with stakes attached — be any less politicized than those established by states or districts? To clarify this a bit, let me rephrase the question: Why would the teachers unions, public-school administrators associations, and education bureaucrats -- with their huge presences in and around DC, their outsized political power compared to parents, and their overwhelming interest in low standards and high funding -- have any less sway over the feds than they have over other levels of government?

Sadly, no national standards standard bearers have answered these questions, and the leaders of the charge keep on making undefended proclamations. Look no further than today’s Flypaper post by Michael Petrilli. At the same time he rightly calls out the Washington Post for failing to understand that “what’s sorely lacking in Washington isn’t ambition, but hubris,” he asserts that the feds “could... provide greater transparency about how schools are performing—yes, through…national standards and tests.”

To quote Charlie Brown as Lucy pulls the football away: “AAUGH!!!”

Could someone PLEASE answer the question: Why would the feds be any less susceptible to standards-dumbing/avoiding/destroying than any other level of government? Indeed, given Washington’s abysmal track record on education, why should any rational person conclude that the feds wouldn't be more susceptible to special-interest domination? And while we’re at it, could someone explain why standards from any level of government wouldn’t be more influenced by teachers unions and the like than standards delivered by parent-controlled education dollars for which schools would have to compete?

For national-standards stalwarts it’s easier to just not address political reality. But please, humor me (and Eduwonk): Explain how Washington suddenly got so high above pernicious political powers that federal standards wouldn't be dragged into the same-old, smothering, education mud.