By Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass | Sunday, September 2, 2012 | http://www.bostonherald.com | Op-Ed
Labor Day is a good time to remember that there was no bigger proponent of the central role public schools play in our democratic society than the late president of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker. “One is not born into something that makes you an American,” Shanker said. “It is?.?.?. by accepting a common set of values and beliefs?.?.?.?”
But Shanker would likely be appalled by the mockery supporters of national education standards have made of the democratic processes he held so dear.
The so-called Common Core State Standards in English and math were almost entirely developed inside the Beltway by a small group of D.C.-based education trade organizations.
Many of the 46 states that adopted the standards did so before they were even complete. In the vast majority of states, educational officials adopted the standards unilaterally; few state legislatures ever even voted on them.
To bolster their decisions, some state education officials relied on comparisons of their existing standards to Common Core, comparisons that were funded by the same Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that has spent more than $100 million to develop and promote the national standards.
This embarrassing spectacle calls into question John Adams’ famous claim that the United States is “[a] government of laws, and not of men.”
At least three federal laws explicitly prohibit the federal government from directing, funding or controlling any state and local standards, curriculum, testing or instructional materials.
Despite these clear legal prohibitions, the Obama administration made adoption of Common Core a criterion for states competing for more than $4 billion in federal grant money. Each state that received a so-called Race to the Top grant had either adopted or promised to adopt Common Core.
Another $362 million in federal grants was doled out to two national consortia that are developing common assessments to “help” states transition to nationalized standards and tests.
In their federal grant applications, the two testing consortia flat-out stated their intent to use the money to create a “model curriculum” and instructional materials “aligned with” Common Core, in direct violation of the law. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan even said that the consortia’s work includes “developing curriculum frameworks” and “instructional modules.”
In short, the U.S. Department of Education has paid others to do what it is forbidden from doing. The tactic should not inoculate the department against curriculum prohibitions imposed by Congress.
Courageously, Thomas Gosnell, who heads the state chapter of the union Shanker once led, opposed Massachusetts’ 2010 adoption of Common Core.
“Our standards?.?.?. are clearly higher than what the federal government is proposing,” he said. “Our students are number one in the nation and the Western world, and here we are being asked to sign onto those [national] standards.”
Shanker believed public schools were the vehicle for getting students to accept the common set of democratic ideals that make us Americans. But it doesn’t really matter that schoolchildren are reading the nation’s Founding Documents or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address if they see the adults who govern public education openly violating federal laws.
Charles Chieppo is a senior fellow and Jamie Gass directs the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank.
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