The Obama Administration is successfully orchestrating one of the largest federal overreaches into education policy since the Great Society programs of the mid-1960s. If this news is coming as a surprise, it’s because the Administration is maneuvering outside of normal legislative procedure, by way of Trojan-horse programs such as Race to the Top and the suggestive power of their “blueprint” to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.
The Administration’s push for national standards and tests, which is moving quickly, is an historic federal overreach. By August 2, 2010, states must submit “evidence of having adopted common standards” in order to increase their chances of winning a Race to the Top grant. For states not enticed by the $4.35 billion grant competition, the Administration has already laid the groundwork in their blueprint for tying the $14.5 billion in Title I funding for low-income districts to the adoption of national standards—a deal that states will likely be unable to turn down.
Many proponents of national standards argue that since the standards being developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative—which was established by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers (but being backed with federal money)—are for math and English only, critics need not worry about the potential for the standards to be politicized. And indeed, President Obama learned from the mistakes of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, who lobbied heavily for national history standards.
When the national standards movement was in full force in the 1990s (that’s right, we’ve been here before), the debate hit a fever pitch over the highly politicized history standards, culminating with a 99–0 vote in the Senate against the standards. So this Administration has decided to stick with math and English language arts standards—or so we thought.
As with any government program, the tentacles are already growing. Today, Education Week reports that science standards are under development.
As part of a national effort to produce “next generation” science standards for K-12 education, a panel of experts convened by the National Research Council yesterday issued a draft of a conceptual framework designed to guide the standards and “move science education toward a more coherent vision,” … The congressionally chartered National Research Council is gathering public input on the framework until Aug. 2, with the final document expected out in early 2011. … The effort, however, is entirely separate from the recently completed work to develop common core state standards in mathematics and English/language arts.
While they may technically be separate from the math and English standards being developed by the CCSSI, the groups seem to be sharing talking points. Education Week quotes the council’s report:
The growing national consensus around the need for “fewer, higher, clearer” [standards] is central to this effort. There is widespread recognition that too often standards are long lists of detailed and disconnected facts, reinforcing the criticism that the U.S. science curriculum tends to be “a mile wide and an inch deep.
The CCSSI has consistently used the phrase “fewer, clearer, higher” to describe the math and English language arts standards, and proponents have used the “mile wide, inch deep” criticism of the current system ad nauseum in their push for national standards.
But regardless of which group ultimately drafts the looming science standards, the Obama Administration is laying the groundwork for federal support. The “blueprint” mentioned above, which details how the Administration would like to see reauthorization of No Child Left Behind play out, states the following:
Beginning in 2015, formula funds will be available only to states that are implementing assessments based on college- and career-ready standards that are common to a significant number of states. The program also will support competitive grants to consortia of states, and to other entities working in partnership with states, for research on, or development and improvement of, additional high-quality assessments to be used by multiple states in such areas as science, history, or foreign languages; high school course assessments in academic and career and technical subjects; universally designed assessments; and assessments for English Learners and students with disabilities.
National standards—in any subject—are bad policy. They are unlikely to result in high standards but rather the standardization of learning. They would also result in the standardization of mediocrity, because the rigor and content of national standards would tend to align with the mean among states, weakening states with higher quality standards such as Massachusetts, California, and Virginia. But perhaps worst of all, national standards would further diminish parental authority in education. The federal government would gain more power over education as a result, which would come at the expense of parents and local communities.