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Centralized Education Reform by Any Other Name Would Smell

 

Centralized Education ReformGetting caught up in discussions about whether Common Core is “state led” or a federal program seems a fruitless debate of semantics.

What is the danger of a federally controlled education system that makes “state led” sound better? Those who oppose federal control typically oppose a concentration of power that would dictate one set of educational ideals (yes, even standards represent certain values) to the exclusion of others, establishing an intellectual tyranny of sorts.

Whether one sees Common Core as a federal program, or as the product of an extragovernmental cartel of state leaders (aka state-led) and special interests who had no constitutional commission to affect nationwide education policy in the way that they did, the outcome is the same:

Decisions were concentrated into the hands of a select few and the reforms of one ideology were championed (with the help of federal funds) while all other voices were shut out.

In other words, those who argue that this was not an outright federal mandate have a valid point. Common Core is the result of the second scenario, which is even worse than a direct federal mandate (as if No Child Left Behind wasn’t intrusion enough) from our duly elected representatives in Washington D.C.

This process sets an alarming precedent for circumventing our constitutional representative form of government and seems to establish a safe haven for the collusion of public funds and private interests without the traditional oversight established by law at either the federal or the state level.

I question what seems to be a generally accepted notion that Governors and Chief State School Officers have the legal authority to represent the state in making decisions jointly with other states. I see that as the role of Congress.

Common Core was not a “best practice” that was modeled by one state and copied by others. It was a joint initiative that had never been piloted anywhere… an unusual collaboration between the executive branches of State and Federal government and private interests that was brokered by the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). It was a process that was not openly accountable to “we the people,” that was not subject to open meetings, open records, lobbying restrictions etc.

There is a long history of disagreement over the best way to teach math, or what books and literature are of the most worth. In a free society, this competition of ideas has traditionally been considered a valuable condition that would encourage innovation, preserve liberty, and provide options. When the results of competing ideas and methodologies can be compared, people can make informed decisions and choose for themselves what works best.

Those who comfort themselves with the remaining sliver of local control over curriculum within the confines of the Common Core standards and tests seem strangely willing to trade some of the last vestiges of local control (unlikely to ever be returned once surrendered) to support an untried philosophy of education that is dismissive of the experience and creativity of our best teachers, and of the primary stewardship of parents over their children.

Meanwhile textbooks, summative assessments, prepackaged curriculum and formative assessments grow ever more homogenous as they align to “common” standards, and the benefits of school choice are practically erased.

If this were just about standards that would be one kind of disagreement… but the furor over Common Core is about a fundamental shift in control over education.

This is about how decisions for education, and perhaps even other “state led” initiatives, are governed going forward.

This is about whether those closest to the children and their needs will be marginalized in favor of overgeneralized policy by bureaucrats and educrats.

This is not just about what our kids will learn, but about who gets to decide.

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