The End Run Pass

by Tiberius Gracchus on December 16, 2013

It will require break the mold initiatives and iron political will on the part of states to undertake a human capital reform agenda — and, accordingly, the Department has assigned the big points and promised the big money for this tough work. – A Race to the Top Scorecard, NCTQ

A Race to the Top Scorecard, created by the National Council on Teacher Quality – an education reform think tank supported by the Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation – for state administrations, is littered with pictures of a cartoon man running. The unappealing imagery suggests a state government sprinting into the unknown, and appropriately the guidebook mentions that states can receive extra points, out of a total possible 500 points, for faster implementation of the Department of Education’s Race to the Top program. This 4.35 billion dollar program was developed to incentivize dramatic education reform at a statewide level to remedy the supposed inadequate standards of the states. The Department of Education, current federal administration, most state government leaders, and assorted boards support the statement that American children are underachieving in education to such a high level that the profound effects of the Race to the Top program is a needed response so that our children will succeed in a globalizing society.

If the federal government says a state can earn points for implementing a specific program in a contest where funds are awarded based on total points earned, is that not then an endorsed federal government program? When billions of federal tax dollars are earmarked in a national recession for specific programs that transform public education, is that not federal coercion of state behavior? The public is taxed and that money is then used as a carrot on a stick to entice states to reform public education through the Race to the Top program. The funds are not offered for a state’s own discretionary use to bolster its educational system, but only those states that follow the advised prescription will be awarded funding. Also, nearly all the categories that exist to receive points from the Race to the Top program are highly subjective and open to interpretation for judgment of compliance. This lack of clarity has led to accusations of political favoritism, such as in the case of Delaware, where a large number of apparently undeserved points were awarded to the state. This federally pushed program suggests strongly that there is one path to success and if your state is not on that path then it will be exempted from the benefit of the federal coffers.

Race to the Top directly offers 70 points, under the category Standards and Assessment, for adoption of the Common Core Standards. Thus far, Common Core Standards only apply to English and Math. However, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is recommending textbooks to states that will most likely become the primary textbooks for English and Math because of the fear of poor test results by school administrations, and expansion of standards for Science, Art, and other subjects are already being independently developed according to the national CCSSI website. Also, the Common Core Standards can be flanked by additional desired state standards, which would be tested separately, but the tests can not be changed so ignoring undesirable standards is futile. Because only the National Governors’ Association and Council of Chief State School Officers can change the copyrighted tested standards, states that choose to adopt Common Core Standards voluntarily diminish their sovereignty on issues of public education.

Common Core Standards is only one of many financially supported reforms through the Race to the Top program. Race to the Top is often thought of as merely a federal co-opting of K-12 education, but it also now will contain, for 2014 proposed, the “Preschool for All” program that espouses a fervor for “high quality” preschool education similar to the recent support for the Affordable Care Act. Methods are supported in the Race to the Top program that threaten teachers with dismissal if their students do poorly, such as on standardized tests, which disincentives any curriculum diversity. The Common Core Standards program also takes up nearly all of a teacher’s time through sets and subsets of required topics to be tested thereby limiting the diversity of children’s curriculum. It is truly stripping away an educator’s freedom to teach. The enactment of Common Core solidifies a measure of no value for any South Dakotan approach to educational standards where it concerns English and Math.

The U.S. Department of Education cannot by federal law establish a national curriculum. However, the National Governors’ Association has been co-opted by the federal government through the coercive Race to the Top grant program, which through required testing effects curriculum. It is acting as a third party to accept responsibility for the creation of the Common Core Standards, by those interested in centralization of education by keeping the federal government in the blind spot of people sensitive to federal encroachment upon states’ rights. Those that dream of an educational utopia across the United States, where state lines are no longer an obstacle to national uniformity, have the most to gain from the Race to the Top program. It is not a question of if these reforms can improve our school systems or student performance, it is a question of the value of state sovereignty. With the stripping away of a people’s local cultural influence on students’ education it provides the effect of nationalization without direct federal responsibility through the debatable voluntary competition of the Race to the Top program. In South Dakota, Common Core Standards was passed through the Board of Education without chamber-wide approval, and South Dakota did not receive enough points through the Race to the Top program to be awarded any federal funding. It is ironic therefore that our state leaders would be willing to give away our sovereignty over education standards without even achieving a monetary benefit for the state, and not surprising that several State Representatives and Senators are fighting to eliminate the Common Core Standards in South Dakota before planned implementation.



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