Many Americans probably heard about the Obama Administrations’ federal overhaul of public education for the first time when the Washington Post recently began its series.
The September 30th Post article, Rethinking the Classroom: Obama’s overhaul of public education, said that since taking office, Obama “set in motion broad overhaul of public education from kindergarten through high school, largely bypassing Congress and inducing states to adopt landmark changes.” For the first time, all children in 46 states will be required to follow new “Common Core State Standards.” Under these new sets of standards, children will be required to read more “informational texts.”
The president has said changes are needed to close the persistent gap between poor and privileged students, drive up high school graduation rates and produce a workforce that can compete globally.
But it is impossible to predict whether his policies, which are years from full implementation, will work. There is little or no research showing that these measures lead to better-educated children or higher graduation rates. Unions and some parents contend that Obama’s approach overemphasizes testing and crowds out the arts and other subjects. [And] none of the top-performing countries against which the United States is frequently compared — in an unflattering light — use any of the techniques advocated by Obama…
There is wide agreement, however, that the administration has been particularly successful at pushing through its flavor of education policy.
The Post also explained how Obama used executive authority to bring about these changes.
With states clamoring for relief from No Child Left Behind, and Congress stalled five years over reauthorizing it, the president forged ahead with his agenda rather than waiting for Congress to act. He used his authority to issue waivers from No Child Left Behind to 33 states.
The administration also leveraged $4.3 billion in stimulus money that Congress approved for education, creating a series of competitive grants known as Race to the Top, pumping to a new level this type of award. In the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, federal officials dangled the stimulus money to persuade struggling states to make big policy shifts.
This past Sunday, the Post continued its series, reporting on the controversy over the new Common Core State Standards, “as schools ramp up their nonfiction reading requirements and excise classic works of fiction form classrooms.”
The new standards, which are slowly rolling out now and will be in place by 2014, require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12. Among the suggested nonfiction pieces for high school juniors and seniors are Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration….
Several years ago, the National Governors Association began pushing the idea of common standards in English and math. The Gates Foundation invested tens of millions of dollars in the effort to write them. The Obama administration kicked the notion into high gear when it required states to adopt the common standards — or an equivalent — in order to compete for Race to the Top grant funds. By this year, 45 states and D.C. had signed onto the math and English standards. Minnesota has adopted only the English standards; Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia have not adopted either.
In Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education, the government makes its case for the federal role in education and for governments to create benchmarks, writing: “Education is a tremendously important lever for ensuring competitiveness and prosperity in the age of globalization.” American education is not only falling behind other countries, it said, “the U.S. ranks high in inequity, with the third largest gap in science scores between students from different socioeconomic groups.”
Five actions have been enacted under this new federal initiative:
- adopt new common core of standards for all students K-12;
- ensure that all textbooks, media, curricula and assessments are aligned with the standards;
- revise and standardize all state policies for teachers and school leaders;
- hold all schools accountable for school performance under the new federal standards through monitoring and interventions; and
- measure state-level educational performance by testing students’ attainment of the new standards.
According to the new Common Core State Standards, “the Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do.” Pages 32 and 58, provide examples of the reading texts that will comply with the new standards.
Stanley Kurtz said “President Obama’s bid to control what your children learn in school is surely one of the most important and disturbing of his many transformative plans.” He wrote yesterday in the National Review:
Not only is Obama’s attempt to devise what is in effect a national K–12 school curriculum arguably unconstitutional and illegal, the fact that most Americans have no idea that the new “Common Core” (a.k.a. Obamacore) even exists may be the most troubling thing about it….
To say the least, the legality of Obama’s curriculum power-grab is dubious, as George Will explains. The trouble with the new English curriculum is that it largely crowds out classic literature in favor of non-fiction. As teachers and students rebel against boring selections and the gutting of their most popular units, defenders of the Common Core claim that schools have missed qualifications in the new requirements….
The potential for political abuse in a curriculum heavy with government documents and news articles should be obvious. Given the politics of most teachers, the new non-fiction requirements create a huge opening for leftist indoctrination. And that’s only the beginning of the potential political abuses of the Common Core.
Jason Baker, also found the curriculum disturbing and to manifest the very concerns of the Founding Fathers over state education, and wrote a fiery piece:
[T]here is a dark progressive cloud looming on the Alabama horizon. It comes in the form of a push by the Obama Administration to takeover the American education system. National “Common Core” standards is the means to accomplish this goal. Out with traditional learning and in with leftist indoctrination on steroids….
The September 12, 2011 meeting of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women hosted by the East Alabama Patriots detailed the plan to remove parental authority over school curriculum. A cleverly disguised attempt to indoctrinate our children.
Obama and his leftist lackeys are still scheming to fundamentally change our nation by grooming American children …using nameless, faceless bureaucrats who are unelected, unanswerable, and unaccountable to American voters to seize control of education…. His low standards will include alternative lifestyles, criticism of capitalism, praise for unions, redistribution of wealth benefits, radical environmentalism, and a combination of the denigration of Christianity and acceptance of all other religions. Parents and local school boards will have no say whatsoever…
No one questions the importance of education for our children. “Education is the process by which we impart moral values to our children, make them part of our particular culture, develop their ability to think, and give them specific kinds of information that they will need to be productive adults, good citizens, and civilized human beings,” wrote David Boaz in the Cato Handbook for Congress. For years, we’ve been hearing how poorly American students fare in international competitions, he said. “But neither the importance of education nor its poor quality means that education is an important function of the federal government.” Education is a perfect example that just because something is vitally important doesn’t mean it should be in the province of the federal government.
Many Americans, and especially politicians, appear to have forgotten that the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government no authority over education. It made education a power reserved to the states. The Founding Fathers had many reasons for not granting the federal government a role in education, explained Boaz. They felt that most aspects of life should be managed by the states and by people themselves with their families, businesses, and locally communities. As Boaz wrote, the argument against federal involvement in education reflects an understanding of the importance in the Founders’ reasons for reserving most aspects of civil society to state, local or private endeavers:
The Founders feared the concentration of power. They believed that the best way to protect individual freedom and civil society was to limit and divide power. Thus it was much better to have decisions made independently by 13–or 50–states, each able to innovate and to observe and copy successful innovations in other states, than to have one decision made for the entire country. As the country gets bigger and more complex, and especially as government amasses more power, the advantages of decentralization and divided power become even greater.
Boaz outlined the important history of the Department of Education and documented its achievements since it was established in 1979. By 1997, he explained, the Department’s budget for federal education programs had doubled to $31.1 billion. “Education spending has risen at a rate over three times as fast as nondefense discretionary programs.” Adjusted for inflation, “we’re spending five times what we did 50 years ago, and more than twice what we spent per pupil 30 years ago.”
Since he wrote that, the federal education budget has more than doubled again to $68.1 billion in 2012, with the Administration requesting an increase of $1.7 billion for 2013. But regardless of how many reforms have been implemented to improve schools by the Department of Education, nearly all involving higher taxes, said Boaz, test scores remain far lower than they were in 1963 before the demise in public education began.