Last week, more than 100 education leaders signed a manifesto against the federally supported national education standards and tests backed by the Obama Administration. And in recent weeks, two states—Minnesota and South Carolina—have proposed legislation to prohibit implementation of the standards.
While Minnesota has already adopted the English/language arts standards, the state has not adopted the math standards. The proposed legislation would “bar the state’s education commissioner from adopting the…standards during upcoming revisions of those documents,” Education Week reports. Additionally, South Carolina’s law would prohibit that state from implementing the already adopted standards, voiding any steps taken to implement them.
States’ action to protect themselves from heightened government control of their local schools is more than reasonable. National education standards would further open the doors for Washington to enter the nation’s schools, ceding power to federal bureaucrats to determine what is taught in the classroom. Moreover, the promotion and funding of national standards and curriculum by the Obama Administration appears to be“according to the U.S. Department of Education’s own description…in violation of the law by which [the Department] was created,” as Jay P. Greene recently noted.
The law states:
No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum…or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.
However, a recent statement by Peter Cunningham, a spokesman for the Department of Education, amounts to admission that the Administration is breaching this wall:
Just for the record: we are for high standards, not national standards and we are for a well-rounded curriculum, not a national curriculum. There is a big difference between funding development of curriculum—which is something we have always done—and mandating a national curriculum—which is something we have never done. And yes—we believe in using incentives to advance our agenda.
Yet, since the standards were created, the Obama Administration has been tying federal education dollars to states’ adoption of the standards, as well as providing funds to implement the corresponding curriculum. Jay P. Greene argues:
[T]he spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education says that they are funding development of curriculum, but the Department is expressly not authorized to direct, supervise, or control curriculum….The Department seems to think that it is on solid footing as long as it does not mandate or control curriculum. But the 1979 law restricts the Department more broadly. It may not even direct or supervise curriculum.
Minnesota and South Carolina’s pushback against federal control of standards and curriculum is wise. Nearly five decades of ever-increasing Washington control over education has failed to improve student academic achievement and instead has left schools with more red tape at a costly price for taxpayers.
Ceding greater power over what children are learning to D.C. bureaucrats is not the path to improving education in the United States. Rather, the federal government should give states more flexibility to implement policies that they deem best fit the needs of their students. States also must work to raise academic standards and heighten the transparency—and thus accountability—of school performance to those to whom it rightfully belongs: parents and communities.