Don’t worry. They’re fixing education in America. Again.
The states have largely signed on to a national “Common Core” for public education to assure that all American children share a basic body of learning. This Common Core would, according to the Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI) website, “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” Thus far, the standards apply to only language arts and mathematics.
This is the latest stage in the federalization of a constitutionally local responsibility, and the natural and moral responsibility of parents. Yet curriculum has come to be seen as none of the parents’ business (leave it to the professionals, folks) and increasingly as the proper sphere of the federal government. In 1988, George H.W. Bush, when he was running for president, claimed he wanted to be “the education president.” His son, George W. Bush, introduced as president No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that mandated national standardized testing in exchange for federal education funding. Ronald Reagan, by contrast, campaigned in 1980 to abolish the newly formed Department of Education.
Unlike NCLB, the CCSI is an outgrowth of a National Governors Association attempt—in conjunction with a private organization, Student Achievement Partners—to bring conformity to divergent state curricula. But the federal Department of Education has inserted itself into the matter by the usual route: dangling federal money. States can receive Race to the Top grants only if they have signed on to the new Common Core standards. Because of the enormous cash flow at stake, 46 states have adopted these new constraints. The near universal support among the states, therefore, is not a consensus on the educational merits of this innovation, but on the utility of sacrificing state self-government for federal funds.
The governors of 46 states have effectively declared their own incompetence to address the most basic issue in education, namely, what to teach. Instead of throwing the question down to parents in consultation with local schools, they commissioned a national study and bound everyone under their authority to its conclusions.
It gets worse. The co-founder of Student Achievement Partners, David Coleman, left that organization to head the College Board, a private company that writes and administers the SAT, a national standardized test that measures how ready a student is to take on college-level work. When he was with Student Achievement Partners, Coleman oversaw the development of the Common Core. Now as College Board president, he will bring the extremely influential SAT into alignment with the Common Core teaching standards and methods used by public schools.
So expect the SAT to become a relatively meaningless measure of college preparedness. But because of its continuing influence, it will become a menace to college-bound private school and homeschool students as the once objective SAT begins measuring only how well they have conformed to public school education.
Every national reform comes with great condemnation of past practices and great boasts for the future, but only leaves us with more past to condemn.