Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gary Palmer: Common Core Standards

  In less than three years, the Obama Administration has taken over financial institutions, two car companies, the energy sector and health care. Now, with the help of some Republican governors and school board members, the Obama Administration is on the verge of taking over education.

  Common Core is the latest attempt to expand the reach of federal government even more broadly into our daily lives. Common Core, which was reportedly conceived by the National Association of Governors, was originally presented to the states as an effort to develop consistency in state curriculum for college and workforce readiness. Theoretically, the Common Core standards will improve education outcomes and increase transparency and accountability.

  One problem with the new Common Core standards is that they are almost indistinguishable from the old state standards they are supposed to replace. According to a June 29th Education Week blog by Catherine Gewertz, many teachers and administrators don't see any difference between their old state standards and the Common Core standards. The fact is, state boards of education have bought into something that most of them had little or no input in and that many of them really do not fully understand and that will inevitably lead to having federal government bureaucrats setting education standards for Alabama's children.

  Throughout the process of pushing the states to adopt the standards, supporters of Common Core repeatedly described the program as voluntary. If participation is voluntary, then why has the federal department of education used financial rewards in the form of Race to the Top funds and selective waivers from some of the No Child Left Behind requirements to entice or even pressure states to get on board?

  The Obama Administration has even suggested making Title 1 funding for low-income schools contingent on adoption of these national standards. Frankly, that doesn't sound like a voluntary program. In fact, it doesn't even sound like a legal program.

  Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) from creating national standards and curricula. The General Education Provisions Act provides that no education programs of the DOE be construed to authorize any federal department, agency, officer or employee to direct, supervise, or control curriculum or any program of instruction. Section 9527(a) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) prohibits the federal government from mandating, directing, or controlling curriculum or programs of instruction and section 9527(b) prohibits funds under the ESEA from being used to endorse, approve, or sanction curriculum.

  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has written Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a letter pointing out that the Executive branch does not have the authority to force states to comply with administration-backed reforms through the use of waivers. While recognizing that the No Child Left Behind Act allows limited use of waivers, Sen. Rubio wrote, "...nowhere does the law authorize waivers in exchange for the adoption of administration-preferred policies." He added, "This initiative is an overstep of authority that undermines existing law, and violates the constitutional separation of powers."

  Sadly, this violation of separation of powers is being aided and abetted by some state school board members who support the Obama Administration's efforts to nationalize education.

  Dr. Jay Greene, department head and 21st Century Chair in Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, believes that the effort to nationalize our public schools will ultimately fail. For one thing, most state legislators don't know much about Common Core or how much their implementation will cost. This becomes problematic because the legislators must appropriate the money for implementation and as Greene pointed out, making all the changes that are necessary at the state level "...will take a ton of money since it involves changing textbooks, tests, professional development, teacher training, etc. ..." Given the very severe fiscal condition of Alabama and other states, Greene believes the push for Common Core will falter when the state legislatures face trying to come up with the money for implementation.

  In addition, as Greene has pointed out, every major Republican presidential candidate has come out against national standards. This not only means that Common Core will be dismantled if the Republicans take back the White House, it puts substantial pressure on "conservative" Republican governors, state legislators and school board members to oppose Common Core as well.

  From the perspective of many, Common Core will not improve education outcomes, it will nationalize mediocrity and stifle innovation. But even if the Common Core standards were better than Alabama's current standards, it would not justify the federal interference that will come with them. If there is anything in Common Core that would improve education outcomes in Alabama, the state board of education could incorporate those standards into our state education requirements without having to participate in the federal program.

  The federal government already has too much control over too much of the daily lives of Alabama families without also tying the future of Alabama's children to the dictates of federal education bureaucrats. The members of the Alabama State Board of Education should put Alabama first and withdraw from Common Core.

  About the author: Gary Parlmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

  This article was published by the Alabama Policy Institute.

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