A quality education in America shouldn’t come down to a lottery ball. But that’s exactly how life plays out for many low-income families seeking an alternative to failing public schools. With limited enrollment at charter schools and private schools financially out of reach, they are left with little choice but to play the odds in hopes of a brighter future.
“It’s heartbreaking,” President Obama said about a scene in the new Waiting for Superman documentary. “And when you see these parents in the film, you are reminded that — I don’t care what people’s income levels are, you know, their stake in their kids, their wanting desperately to make sure their kids are able to succeed is so powerful, and it’s obviously difficult to watch to see these kids who know that this school’s going to give them a better chance, that that should depend on the bounce of a ball.”
How can Obama possibly call this “heartbreaking” when one of his first acts as President was to snatch winning lottery spots from Washington, D.C. school children? Specifically, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent letters to 216 low-income families informing them that he was taking back the $7,500 in scholarship money that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program had previously awarded them. Yesterday on NBC’s TODAY Show, Obama admitted that daughters Sasha and Malia deserve better than D.C. public schools — that’s the reason he sends them to a tony private school with other Washington elites. So then why is Obama blocking other kids from the same opportunity?
It would’ve been the logical follow-up question for Matt Lauer to ask. But just like the rest of NBC’s Education Nation series, Lauer let Obama off easy. The network appears content to give Duncan and union boss Randi Weingarten a platform to promote the same failed policies that got America into this mess.
There are other troubling aspects of Obama’s education agenda besides his assault on school choice. One of the most alarming is the concentration of power taking place in Washington with national standards. The Common Core State Standards, as they’re officially known, were developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. Ultimately they will centralize control with federal bureaucrats. Congress had no say in the matter.
Duncan calls this the “quiet revolution” in education. The goal is to quietly increase federal control, while reducing the role of states, localities and individuals. The Race to the Top competition, with $4.3 billion in economic stimulus money, was a convenient way to go about it. Unions played a powerful role. In fact, one of the criteria for winning a federal grant was securing teachers’ union support. Some states lost out for this reason. Others didn’t even bother to compete because of clashes with union bosses.
Obama boasted to Lauer that his Race to the Top program was “probably the most powerful tool we’ve seen for reform in a couple of decades.” Of course, he neglected to mention that some states are opting out of his grand experiment, recognizing it as a facade for failed government solutions and a stealth ploy for more power.
Obama, it seems, is a pseudo-reformer when it comes to our nation’s schools.
Fortunately, some states have just said no. Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) has led the opposition to national standards. He makes a powerful and principled case for protecting local control and preserving federalism. Perry spoke exclusively to Heritage about the issue (click here to watch):
Texas already has some of the best standards, best curriculum. Education Week ranked us rather high in those categories. So, we know what works for our children. And the fact is that Washington’s Race to the Top, with their national standards, and their national testing — yet to be worked out, of course — we think would be devastating to the young people in the state of Texas.
Equally troubling for Perry is the process by which the Obama administration has persuaded states to support its education agenda. By dangling money before cash-starved states, many governors jumped at the chance to compete for Race to the Top grants. Perry wasn’t enticed. “Why would we trade our ability to educate our children for some faceless bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., for, frankly, a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things?”
Perry might be the most vocal, but he’s not alone. After the first round of Race to the Top concluded, nine states had reconsidered and, for a variety of reasons, chose not to participate in the second round of competition. States with high standards — notably Massachusetts and Virginia — have expressed concern about moving backward. Still, it’s an uphill battle. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have already adopted the Common Core State Standards.
Obama’s revolution is indeed happening quietly, which is all the more reason to sound the alarm. Parents have the most to lose by ceding local control over education to Washington. Now is the time to do something about it.
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