Will Education Standards Really Help Failing Schools?
Lindsey Burke /
President Obama’s proposal Monday to link Title I funding to adoption of education standards has the education world abuzz. During a speech to the National Governor’s Association, President Obama stated:
I want to commend all of you for acting collectively through the National Governors Association to develop common standards that will better position our students for success.and today, I’m announcing steps to encourage and support all states to transition to college and career-ready standards on behalf of America’s students.
First, as a condition of receiving access to Title I funds, we will ask all states to put in place a plan to adopt and certify standards that are college and career-ready in reading and math. Once you’ve got those standards in place, you’ll be able to better compete for funds to improve teaching and upgrade curricula and to make sure that we’re delivering for our kids, we’re launching a competition to reward states that join together to develop the highest-quality, cutting edge assessments required to measure progress; and we’ll help support their implementation.
What does this imply for the supposedly “voluntary” common standards effort underway in many states? The New York Times ran this statement from the White House:
‘In better aligning the law to support college- and career-ready standards, its proposed rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law would ‘require all states to adopt and certify that they have college- and career-ready standards which may include common standards developed by a state-led consortium, as a condition of qualifying for Title I funding’
Even the Fordham Foundation, which has supported the common standards movement, has raised strong concerns about the new proposal. Andy Smarick writes:
This is big and interesting news when combined with the administration’s push, via RTT [Race to the Top], for common or national standards. This could potentially mean that a state that refuses to give up its age-old prerogative to unilaterally determine the content of its academic standards could disqualify itself from hundreds of millions of federal funds annually.
What remains to be seen is if states like Texas or Alaska that are balking at the national standards push would be able to argue that their non-common standards are “college- and career-ready.
I do wonder, however, if a governor might stand up after the president’s speech and ask: ‘Mr. President, your secretary of education continues to say that the federal government doesn’t have the answer and that Washington should get out of the way and allow states to make the most important decisions in K-12 schooling. How exactly does that square with your message today that states will lose access to Title I funds unless we relinquish our right to make the final call on arguably the most important K-12 matter: what our students learn?’
Great question. The Obama administration has billed the common standards movement as a voluntary effort by 48 states to adopt what the NGA/CCSSO deem the academic content all students across the country need to know. While Race to the Top creates a strong federal incentive for their adoption – the $4.35 billion in competitive grants has just been increased by another $1.35 billion – this move to link Title I funds to their adoption would up the ante considerably. Nearly every school district in America participates in the $14.5 billion Title I program. The program was the original 1965 federal intervention into local education to provide extra funding for low-income children. In other words, Title I represents perhaps the most powerful leverage Washington has over local education.
This would put tremendous pressure, for example, on a state such as Texas, which until now has declined to participate in the common standards movement and RttT grants. But it may be difficult to eschew its share of Title I funding for low-income school districts.
In addition to these concerns about federal funding and administration pressure, the actual content of the standards have some experts questioning the wisdom of adopting the NGA/CCSSO plan. In a joint press release issued Tuesday, the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy (Massachusetts) and the Pacific Research Institute (California) raise concerns about the negative impact on state education reforms across the country:
‘With the façade of voluntary adoption gone and this looking more like a federal takeover of educational standards, Massachusetts and other states that have gotten their acts together over the last 15 years have a choice to make,’ says James Stergios, executive director of Pioneer Institute in Massachusetts. ‘Since education reform, Massachusetts and its localities have invested $90 billion in our schools; the feds not even hitting 10 percent of school spending. We implemented hard-won reforms centered on our liberal arts-rich academic frameworks. Why would we give that up – why would we give up leading the nation on national assessments and college entrance tests, and competing with the best nations in math and science to line up behind standards that look more like West Virginia’s than the nation’s best?’
Lance Izumi, Koret Senior Fellow and Senior Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute states:
‘This new study underscores the serious pitfalls of the current headlong effort of the Obama administration to push states to adopt common, i.e. national, standards. The drafting process has been opaque and the draft standards are not well written or sufficiently rigorous, which is especially disturbing for states like California and Massachusetts that already have high standards. California went through a very transparent and deliberative process to adopt its rigorous standards, so it would be tragic if these well-functioning and highly praised state standards were replaced by academically inferior national standards.
Even as the administration’s health care proposals assert greater federal control over that sector, early signs are that its ideas for this year’s looming education debate are moving in the same direction. And that’s the wrong direction for America’s students.