Maggie Gallagher Urges ALEC to oppose Fed Ed Takeover

Sarah Palin and Rick Perry rejected Common Core from the get-go

Conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher highlights the bright initial instincts of Governor Sarah Palin and Governor Rick Perry on the Common Core in a Real Clear Politics op-ed:

Sarah Palin was the first to recognize the problem: By participating in President Obama’s signature education initiative, the Common Core Standards, Alaska would lose control over its own curriculum.

On May 31, 2009, then-Gov. Palin announced Alaska would adopt a “watch and wait” attitude:

“If this initiative produces useful results, Alaska will remain free to incorporate them,” Gov. Palin said, adding that “high expectations are not always created by new, mandated federal standards written on paper. They are created in the home, the community and the classroom.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, to his credit, was the next to recognize a federal boondoggle when he saw one: “I will not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national standards and tests,” Gov. Perry wrote in a Jan. 13, 2010, letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

In the ensuing two years, it’s become clear that Perry and Palin — two core conservative figures whose intelligence is routinely mocked by liberal “sophisticates” — were brilliantly prescient, indeed prophetic.

Common Core Standards turn out to be like Obamacare — you don’t really know what’s in it until after you pass it and are mired in its tentacles.

Maggie Gallagher correctly identifies the Common Core State Standards Initiative as an Obama Administration initiative.  For years, various pro-Common Core advocates had claimed that the Common Core was “state led” until President Obama proved unable to resist the opportunity to gloat in his 2012 State of the Union and proclaimed this doozy:

For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning — the first time that’s happened in a generation.

After highlighting the numerous problems with the Common Core, she calls on the American Legislative Exchange Council to do the right thing on the Common Core:

A pivotal moment in the history of American education will quietly occur on May 11 in Charlotte, N.C., when the board of the influential (and under fire) conservative American Legislative Exchange Council will meet to decide whether or not to accept its own education task force’s recommendation of model legislation blocking implementation of Obama’s Common Core.

“We eagerly anticipate that the ALEC Board will affirm the task force vote,” said Emmett McGroarty, who works with the American Principles Project, which co-sponsored the Pioneer study and which lobbied for model legislation at ALEC. (Full disclosure: One of my projects, the Culture War Victory Fund, is also housed at APP.)

Obama’s Common Core Standards violate federal laws in order to take over control of curriculum, on behalf of an unproven education initiative that leaves states $16 billion in debt.

Sarah Palin and Rick Perry are proven to be prophets. ALEC, you know what to do.

Read the whole article here.

Action Needed on Iowa Education Reform Bill

Below is an action alert from one of our partners –  Iowa Association of Christian Schools:

Both legislative chambers have passed their own version of Senate File 2284, the education reform bill. The bill has been sent to a conference committee to work out a final bill which will be voted on with no amendments.

Many provisions affect non-public schools because they are accredited by the state. IACS supports the following provisions which we believe will help education in Iowa, including:

  • No expansion of the core curriculum
  • Retain religious liberty language related to the core curriculum
  • Retain alternative licensure provisions for teachers
  • Retain Competency-based instruction language

Please contact the following five key legislators via email (provided below) and let them know you want them to support these four things in the final version of the bill.  Feel free to copy and paste the following sample email and please personalize it with your thoughts and a “thank you” for working hard on education reform legislation this session.  Each of these legislators (two Republicans and two Democrats) have been helpful to IACS on different aspect of this year’s ed reform bill(s).  They all deserve a thank you and an appeal to keep working to make the bill a good one for public AND private schools in Iowa:

“Please support these provisions in Senate File 2284, the education reform bill:

  • No expansion of the core curriculum
  • Retain religious liberty language related to the core curriculum
  • Retain alternative licensure provisions for teachers
  • Retain competency-based instruction language

Thank you for your work on education issues in the state.”

We are hopeful that the House and Senate will compromise on a bill that includes the four-five areas of agreement while avoiding any of the other controversial provisions that put IACS schools at risk.

Heritage Puts Out Memo Highlighting Common Core Issues

Heritage held a panel and put out a memo on exiting the Common Core.  It was a great panel featuring Jim Stergios from the Pioneer Institute, Williamson Evers of the Hoover Institute, Kent Talbert, former acting secretary at the US Department of Education, and Theodore Rebarber of AccountabilityWorks.   As always, Heritage resources are succinct and useful.  Watching the hour-long panel is also rewarding:

When “states signed on to common core standards, they did not realize…that they were transferring control of the school curriculum to the federal government,” said Sandra Stotsky, 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality at the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform, speaking at The Heritage Foundation on Tuesday.

Stotsky and four other education scholars from around the nation met to discuss the Obama Administration’s growing push for Common Core national education standards and why states should resist Washington’s attempt to further centralize education.

The Obama Administration’s press for common education standards is not the first time the federal government has attempted to meddle in school curriculum, as Williamson Evers, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, explained at Tuesday’s event. While the creation of national standards has been led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the standards have been “pushed by the Obama Administration,” explained Evers. “So this is where we are now. The feds are financing the tests. They’re financing model curriculum.”

Hoover Institute Fellow Frames RTTT Fight in Federalism Context

Hoover Institute Fellow David Davenport frames the Race to the Top battle in a larger federalism context in a Forbes article:

You may wonder, for example, how K-12 education, a classic state and local policy matter, has become federalized through “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” reform programs.  The answer is:  through the Congressional spending power.  The feds, in effect, bribe states to follow their ideas about education reform by putting out precious grant money to cash-starved states and school districts.  As some of the justices asked in oral argument, how could states not feel “coerced” to follow federal rules at the risk of losing the largest grant program they now receive from Washington?

Tallying our inventory of federal challenges to state power, so far we have the most important commerce clause litigation since the New Deal, and the largest case questioning possible federal coercion of states in 25 years.  Then comes the Arizona immigration case, in which the federal government has deployed its preemption power in an attempt to stop Arizona from increasing enforcement against illegal immigration, an area in which the federal government has taken the lead but, by all accounts, has woefully underperformed.

Here the federal government’s power comes from the supremacy clause, establishing that federal law is the supreme law of the land.  But states are still free to operate in those areas unless federal law “preempts” the field and states are not acting in conflict with the federal approach.  As Arizona’s attorney, Paul Clement, pointed out:  “This is another federalism case.  This is not all about immigration.  It’s really about the relationship between the federal government and state government.”

Next up, perhaps next term, will be same sex marriage cases, which again raise fundamental questions of federal and state power.  Who decides what the law of marriage is, what marriage itself is?  Is that a question for states or for the federal government?  And surely someone will challenge the federal takeover of K-12 education through reform and testing laws such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” as unlawful exercises of “coercive” federal spending powers.

Beginning with the “New Deal” legislation of the 1930’s, we have witnessed a steady expansion of federal power, much of it at the expense of state sovereignty.  We may well have reached a tipping point where the Supreme Court will say “enough”, and in at least one of these cases—healthcare, immigration, same sex marriage—federal power will be pushed back.

The whole article is well worth reading.

A Teacher in Maine Asks Some Common Core Questions

Jim Fabiano, a 30-year education veteran in Maine, questions the Common Core Standards in a recent op/ed below are a couple of key excerpts.

First he questions the cookie cutter approach:

“The standards are informed by the highest, most effective models from states across the country and countries around the world, and provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn.” Does this mean students in New Hampshire should learn and understand the same topics that people in Nigeria learn? Does this mean all of my students are exactly alike in their dreams and expectations? Does this mean all students share the same interests, and if they don’t, should they be forced to learn what the world demands they learn? Consistent standards will provide appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live.

He also questions who was (and wasn’t) involved in writing the standards:

I sincerely wonder if any classroom teacher was involved. I also wonder that if there were teachers involved,; how much time they spent in any classroom. At my age, I wonder about a lot of things.

I am told the process used to write the standards ensured they were informed by the experience of teachers, content experts, states and leading thinkers, and feedback from the general public. I know I was never asked and I don’t know of any teacher who was asked or know of any parent of any student that was ever asked. Since the last New Hampshire state conference on common core standards was filled with a majority of administrators it is obvious another mistake is being made in that they don’t involve the people who will become the program.

He ends saying this is likely going to be yet another education program which will cost a lot of money and yield few results.

Education Reform Protests See Growth

An interesting post by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post’s education blog, The Answer Sheet.  Strauss notes the increasing number of protests against standardized testing.  She wrote:

It is too early to call it a full-fledged revolt; Washington D.C. has yet to see tens of thousands of people marching through the streets against high-stakes standardized testing, which has been prominent in American education for a decade and is at the core of the Obama administration’s school accountability efforts.

But opposition is clearly growing, most prominently over “value-added” teacher evaluation models that purport to measure how much “value” a teacher adds to a student’s academic progress by using a complicated formula involving a student’s standardized test score.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that this evaluation method is not reliable — and doesn’t take into account all of the out-of-school reasons that could affect how a student does on a test — but the Obama administration has pushed it and states have been adopting new teacher accountability systems that are heavily weighted to test scores.

She notes protests in specifically in Texas, New York and California, but it is likely that it will grow.

Federal Education Spending Discussed During Obamacare Supreme Court Hearing

There was an enlightening exchange about the federal involvement in education between Justice Samuel Alito and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli during the Obamacare oral arguments before the Supreme Court last month.   Education Week reported on why the topic came up:

They came up as the justices debated whether the health-care law’s expansion of the Medicaid program would give the federal government limitless powers to impose conditions on the states when they accept money in other areas, such as education.

Justice Alito on the topic of federal spending in education said:

Let’s say Congress says to the States: We have got great news for you; we know your expenditures on education are a huge financial burden, so we are going to take that completely off your shoulders; we are going to impose a special Federal education tax which will raise exactly the same amount of money as all of the states now spend on education; and then we are going to give you a grant that is equal to what you spent on education last year.

Now, this is a great offer and we think you will take it, but of course, if you take it, it’s going to have some conditions because we are going to set rules on teacher tenure, on collective bargaining, on curriculum, on textbooks, class size, school calendar and many other things. So take it or leave it.

This is the slippery slope of allure of federal dollars – they always come with strings attached which in turn cedes more and more control to the federal government.  But “don’t worry,” the feds say, “its voluntary.”  Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation points out that this is a strange conception of federalism.

And it’s a very strange conception of federalism that says that we can simply give the States an offer that they can’t refuse, and through the spending power—which is premised on the notion that Congress can do more because it’s voluntary—we can force the States to do whatever we tell them to. That is a direct threat to our federalism.

I totally agree.  States need to think less about the short term gain of federal dollars and more about the long-term implications of letting the feds dictate what the standards should be.

The Short-Circuiting of Micromanagement

Oftentimes, pro-Common Core advocates act like they are sailing along with near-consensus towards inevetable nationwide success.  The more ugly and messy reality of micromanagement is highlighted in an EdWeek article this week:

Through the end of March, the 11 states and the District of Columbia had spent just 14 percent of their Race to the Top money, with New York, Rhode Island, and Hawaii spending the least as the midpoint of the four-year grants approaches, anEducation Week analysis of federal spending reports shows.

And so far, the reports show, the bulk of the early money that states have spent outside their own education departments—which are still reeling from severe budget cuts prompted by the recession—has gone to consultants.

Top-level spending, confusion, and a whole lot of consultants getting wealthy.  It doesn’t sound like the kind of smooth sailing envisioned by Arne Duncan as he bends the states to his will.  Of course, the PR machines of the federal Department of Education and the state Departments of Education have showered the bad news described in the article with a peppering of sunny quotes.  But the reality is not so chipper:

The program’s first-year spending pace was slow as states struggled to hire people and find vendors to help carry out their plans.

New York state, for example, planned to spend $151 million in the first year to get its projects off the ground, but instead spent just under $1.5 million. Hawaii, which has encountered so many implementation problems with its $75 million grant that federal officials have placed restrictions on its grant, spent just 6 percent of its first-year budget.

The story, reflecting EdWeek pro-Common Core biases attempts to downplay the clunky messy reality by unscrupulously buying into statements by the Department PR people that everything is still on track.  But the details on the micromanagement are telling:

States can’t make significant changes to their Race to the Top budgets on their own. Any changes by a recipient in grant spending of more than $500,000 must be approved by the Education Department as part of its official amendment process.

The Department of Education, blissfully ignoring the cost of its ambitious micromanagement (and unambitious standards for American students) is running headlong into reality:

The difficulties Race to the Top states face in delivering on their improvement agendas reflect a problem across state education departments: Budget cuts have strained most of those agencies.

A February study by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy found that many of the states that responded to a survey—including several Race to the Top states—don’t have the staff or fiscal resources to carry out changes around teacher evaluations, data systems, low-performing schools, and common standards begun in the time of recent federal economic-stimulus aid. Such aid includes the Race to the Top grants.

The complex legal and regulatory micromanagement has also required enormous spending on legal and education expertise:

Those constraints are likely why so much early Race to the Top spending outside state departments of education is to buy expertise.

Through the end of 2011, Tennessee, which won $500 million, reported spending about $2 million on consultants from Vanderbilt University, in Nashville; Seattle-based Education First Consulting; and the U.S. Education Delivery Institute, in Washington, to help with implementation and evaluation of Race to the Top programs, according to more-detailed spending reports filed with the federal government.

Since the Race to the Top is funded through the 2009 economic-stimulus package, detailed reporting requirements exist that are separate from what the Education Department also requires.

So we at least know that even though precious little money has made its way into American classrooms, education consultants are definitely benefiting.

The article concludes with some reassuring quotes from the President’s cheerleaders at the Center for American Progress.  It serves to once again emphasize the discord between the sobering facts of the over-matched state and federal bureaucracies and the sunny predictions of future success that all the quoted “experts” make.

Brookings Scholar Takes Pro-Common Core Scholars to Task

-- Nip Rogers, EdWeek

Brookings Institute scholar Tom Loveless on Friday published on EdWeek op-ed defending his report the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, which declared that the Common Core Standards would ultimately fail to address the problems in American public education.  He singles out some of his critics (pro-Common Core die-hards like Chester Finn) for not being completely honest with the data:

Similar stories can be told in many states. Standards have been a central activity of education reform for the past three decades. I have studied education reform and its implementation since I left the classroom in 1988. I don’t know of a single state that adopted standards, patted itself on the back, and considered the job done. Not one. States have tried numerous ways to better their schools through standards. And yet, good and bad standards and all of those in between, along with all of the implementation tools currently known to policymakers, have produced outcomes that indicate one thing: Standards do not matter very much.

Several commentators on the Brown Center study—including Richard Lee Colvin, Chester E. Finn Jr., and Sandy Kress—disagree with this interpretation and argue that the empirical evidence means that standards are necessary but not sufficient. No, the evidence does not support that notion. Consider the “sitting on the shelf” reasoning. It only applies to the states with good standards, not the states with bad ones. You want the states with bad standards to walk right past the shelf and toss their standards out with the trash. You certainly don’t want anything important downstream to be aligned with bad standards. But states with bad standards have succeeded in making NAEP gains that are statistically indistinguishable from those of states with good standards. How can that be if good standards are necessary?

We all agree that a huge number of policy pieces must fall into place for standards to affect classrooms. It is quite possible that states with bad standards made better decisions in other areas. Maybe they were inept at standards but good at improving teaching and curriculum. If it’s good teaching, strong curriculum, robust accountability, and a dozen other policy pieces that must snap into place for significant improvement to occur, and standards are a net neutral on those events’ occurrence, then perhaps standards need not be the starting point. Maybe those other policies are better at driving improvement. Perhaps strong curriculum should be developed first and then all of the other pieces could be built around it. I don’t know that this is necessarily so, but we should be open to the possibility.

The whole op-ed is here.

Professors Hit Common Core on Anti-Liberal Arts Stance

There is a new proliferation of momentum against the Common Core by Professors determined to defend the liberal arts from the anti-liberal arts onslaught of the Common Core.

As Shane already pointed out, first English Professor Mary Grabar of Emory hit Arne Duncan in a Roll Call article “The Gradgrinds of the Common Core”:

How good a player would Arne Duncan, former basketball pro and current secretary of Education, have been had he not been allowed to play a pickup game or idly bounce a ball? How many great players would there be had they not been able to play at the corner lot, instead forced through endless drills?

Kids would not have learned the lingo and mannerisms of basketball, or imagined themselves shooting jump shots next to Shaquille O’Neal or Larry Bird. The sport would have become a serious business; no longer would it be about the love of the game.

In short, the culture of basketball, so cherished by fans and players alike, would never have developed.

Yet Duncan proposes standards that make reading and writing a drill-like business. In the new Common Core guidelines, high-school English teachers would have to spend more than 50 percent of their time on nonfiction and informational texts such as court opinions, Federal Reserve bulletins and computer manuals!

Read the whole article here.

Now, influential speaker, lecturer, editor of the Catholic liturgical series the Magnificat, author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and English Professor Anthony Esolen of Providence College (a Catholic College run by the Dominican Order) writes a similar article for the Catholic Thing, “Humanist, Where Art Thou?”:

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death ye will find him;
His father’s sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
“Land of Song!” said the warrior bard,
“Tho’ all the world betray thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”
The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s chain
Could not bring his proud soul under;
The harp he loved ne’er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said, “No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free.
They shall never sound in slavery!”
(Thomas Moore, commemorating the Dublin uprising of 1798)
      “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’”
(David Coleman, Department of Education, 2012)

According to new Common Core State Standards, drawn up by the David Coleman quoted above, English teachers in high school shall spend more than half of their time teaching their students how to read nonfiction: not essays, but “informational” texts, such as bulletins from the Federal Reserve, court decisions, and computer manuals. That is because the students must grow into their roles as players in a global economy.

I am sorely tempted to double the consonant in that word, making it “globbal,” because in point of fact it is a contradiction in terms to suppose that anyone can be a “citizen of the globe.” Citizenship implies a city, and a city exists in a place and a time, with these neighbors, and not mountain dwellers in Tibet or fishermen on the Congo. It also implies the existence of real human beings, with thoughts about the good, and with sometimes unruly passions, who, regardless of their wealth or their age or their station in life, must address the great existential questions. What shall I love? Why am I here? Where am I going? Whom should I obey?

An image comes to my mind – Samuel Adams, having been granted a vision of the people for whose liberty he was fighting, their descendants now submitting prone to the dictates of a vast bureaucracy of education. There I see him, retching over the side of a boat in Boston Harbor. What has happened to the people’s love of liberty? Where has it gone? I suggest that it has gone the way of our belief in the dignity of the human person, who is never to be reduced to a mere counter or cell or drab functionary in an economy, globbal or otherwise. There is a connection to be drawn between disdain for liberty and disdain for the things that are peculiarly human – for example, loyalty to our parents and forebears, or our often faraway longing for what is beautiful and virtuous, or an abiding sense of the sacred, or our common worship of God.

The whole thought-provoking article (worth reading for Catholics and non-Catholics interested in or critical of the Common Core) is here.