Two sides of Obama’s federal takeover of education

If states adopt his Common Core standards, they will be exempt from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates.

Waivers recently granted by President Obama to 10 states allowing them to escape the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act are themselves filled with prescriptive dictates from the administration.

Obama offers seeming flexibility with one hand, while increasing control by Washington with the other. Nowhere, however, has his Washington-knows-best strategy been more evident than in his effort to force states to adopt national education standards.

In his Race to the Top program, Obama made federal education grants contingent on states adopting a set of national, so-called “Common Core,” education standards created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

These national standards would replace existing state-enacted standards. In addition, the Obama administration is funding the development of national tests and curriculum frameworks aligned to these national standards. The result is an unprecedented federal power grab of education policymaking.

The ultimate goal of Obama’s nationalization drive, according to Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, is nothing less than the “federal takeover of the nation’s public schools.”

Such a takeover, based on national standards, testing and curricula, would have terrible educational and governance consequences for America.

First, implementing these national standards would impose enormous cost on states at a time when they can least afford it. In California, which has a $9 billion budget deficit, implementation cost estimates range from $760 million to $1.6 billion.

The irony is that several studies have shown that the new national standards are not any better than California’s current state standards or the standards in many other states.

The New York Times has observed that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is using the huge federal largess at his disposal to “extend the federal government’s reach into virtually every area of education, from pre-kindergarten to college.”

This federal activism on education, epitomized by the national-standards push, runs counter not only to the intent of the Constitution, which envisioned local control of education through the 10th Amendment, but also of federal statutes, which prohibit federal involvement in the development or control of curriculum.

Yet, powerful special interest groups, like the teachers unions, have egged on Obama. The American Federation of Teachers, a key Obama ally, has for years been deeply involved in the national-standards movement.

It is no surprise to find out that the AFT’s members were a key part of the standards-writing team.

Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin and education analyst Annie Hsiao observe that “dense concentration of decision-making could lead to special-interest groups driving the agenda, not students.”

Indeed, the farther away policymaking is seated from ordinary citizens, the less powerful and influential those citizens are. Even if the public finally finds out that the national standards, tests and curriculum, which are financed with their hard-earned tax dollars, are deficient or objectionable, there will be precious little they will be able to do about it.

Instead of taking away power from parents, as the Obama-supported national standards would do, the best way to improve the quality of education would be to promote competition and empower parents by giving them the ability to choose the public or private school that best meets the needs of their children. In 2011 alone, 12 states expanded or created parental choice programs.

Obama is becoming the educational equivalent of French King Louis XIV, who reputedly said, “L’Etat, c’est moi” (“I am the state”). Against this centralized statism, giving parents the power to choose the best school for their children is the revolution that American education truly needs.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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