In a recent public address, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that an onslaught of federal mandates has transformed the Department of Education into a de facto ‘National School Board.’ As the good senator noted, we have a major disagreement in this country about who should be in control of education: Democrats want a national school board, and Republicans want local control. Unfortunately, right now the Leftists are succeeding.
Earlier this month the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP?) approved the Strengthening America’s Schools’ Act, (S1094). Passed along party lines, the bill strengthens federal enforcement of Common Core and demands some 150 new reporting requirements from the states. Furthermore, SASA sets additional dictates on how states may spend education dollars, and preempts the authority of states to set certain licensing and certification criteria. In essence, SASA is a federal power grab.
While Tom Harkin’s SASA bill dramatically moves us closer to a national school board, local control over education has been on the decline for several decades. President Jimmy Carter initiated the federal takeover by creating the Department of Education in 1979, and Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act legitimized further curriculum interference. While denigrating NCLB out of one side of his mouth, President Obama has enthusiastically built upon the NCLB foundation to seize federal control of education.
Defenders of federal control insist that nationalized curriculum will improve academic standards and create uniformity. However, the curriculum imposed by the federal Common Core program demonstrates that one-size-fits-all standards are highly suspect. Numerous educators have pointed out that much of the CC math components are based on a ‘new math’ education fad that abandons math ‘facts’ in favor of enigmatic ‘critical thinking’ exercises. (“Critical thinking” may in fact be the most misunderstood, misused, and abused term in modern pedagogy, but that’s another column altogether.)
Likewise, the Common Core language arts curriculum gradually de-emphasizes literature in favor of “informational texts.” Many CC whistle-blowers have revealed that these “informational texts” often consist of blatant political propaganda (Leftist, of course.) Literature and Philosophy professors across the nation have decried the shift as the implementation of radical leftist Deconstructionist philosophy that denies the existence of ‘truth.’
The latter problem may be difficult to grasp, but it is important to understand that these national standards are not ‘values neutral’ but emphatically present a leftist-worldview, and that worldview has no room for either absolute truths or religious belief. Only last week President Obama suggested that allowing children to attend religious schools was ‘divisive.’ His defenders claim that his comments only applied to Ireland, but many of the President’s domestic policies have also conveyed a certain anti-religion bias. (e.g., healthcare rules, military chaplains, etc.)
Those who have opted out of public school also have cause for concern. Part and parcel of the leftist “utopian” dream is a uniform, collective education. Not only do they oppose any form of parental choice in education, but believe public schools should strive to separate children from the “child abuse” of religious training. (Richard Hawkins, etc.) These groups do not believe parents should be able to opt out of federally mandated curriculum in any way. With nationalized standards in place, they plan to use various school accreditation services and college admissions to impose Common Core particulars and worldview on all American students.
Here in Texas we have pushed back against federal control to some extent. After learning about the content of CSCOPE (which was at least partially created by architects of Common Core,) parents were able to work through elected members of their local school boards, the State Board of Education, and the State Legislature to stop implementation. The Governor has also signed a measure requiring school superintendents to comply with information requests from elected trustees, thus further strengthening local voter control over education.
Unfortunately, if Senator Harkin’s so-called Strengthening America’s Schools Act passes, parents and local voters will have far less control over what is taught, who is hired, and where their own children attend school. Senator Lamar Alexander has outlined an alternate proposal that respects the Constitution by keeping control at the state level, but at this writing, the 1,150 page Harkin bill is moving forward. Americans should reject this blatant power-grab.