Want to withdraw from Obama Ed?

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Well before the March 10, 2010, release of the national Common Core (CC)  standards for K-12 math and English, the Obama administration was pressuring  states to commit to them if they wanted to compete for a share of $4.35 billion  in Race to the Top funds  set aside from the federal stimulus.

All the while, the Washington-based CC collaborators – the National  Governors Association’s Best Practices Center, the Council  of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve  Inc. (a remnant of the failed national standards push of the 1990s) – were  issuing regular assurances these curriculum  standards would be totally “voluntary” and state-led.

Now, amid mounting evidence of the Common Core’s serious legal, fiscal and  qualitative flaws, some brave leaders in several of the 45 states that committed  to the national standards are trying to de-commit. It may be difficult to  unscramble the egg, but if the CC were truly voluntary, wouldn’t you think a  state could at least debate withdrawal without incurring the wrath of Obama Education  Secretary Arne Duncan?

In response to a legislative proposal in South Carolina to halt CC  implementation, Mr. Duncan issued a recent  press release deriding the idea that CC standards are “nationally imposed,” calling it “a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy.” He took a swipe at  the Palmetto State’s lowering to mid-range its previously toughest-in-the-nation  English and math standards, while giving no credit for the state’s winning Fordham Foundation plaudits for having  the finest history standards of all 50 states.

It is unclear who, if anyone, has labeled the Common Core a conspiracy, but  federal pressure to implement it is plainer than ever after Mr.  Duncan’s blast. President Obama’s announced “blueprint” for reauthorizing No  Child Left Behind (NCLB) would effectively require all states to embrace his  monolithic model of “college- and career-ready” standards. Moreover, as part of  its general effort to seize lawmaking authority from Congress, the administration is conditioning NCLB  enforcement waivers on states’ fully embracing the Common Core.

The bid supported by Gov. Nikki Haley to restore local control of schools  in South Carolina may have made Mr. Duncan  surlier than a jilted Chicago mob boss because it comes amid a slew of evidence  the Common Core is shaping up as the costliest, least-productive boondoggle  since the LBJ-era Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed in 1965.

The Brookings Institution’s respected education scholar, Tom Loveless,  recently presented research demolishing the contention that national standards  will raise achievement appreciably. Brookings is no tool of a vast right-wing  conspiracy, nor is The Washington Post, whose veteran  education  columnist, Jay Mathews, concurred with Mr. Loveless in a Feb. 22 piece and  congratulated Virginia for snubbing the CC and preserving its own standards.

Also on Feb. 22, the Boston-based Pioneer Institute published a study showing  taxpayers in the states already adopting the Common Core would have to shell out  at least $16 billion over the next seven years to reorganize their schools to  conform to the national model. That is a hefty price to pay for scant  prospective return and the loss of freedom to innovate at the state and local  level.

Finally, is it all even legal? On Feb. 9, the Pioneer Institute released a  white paper by a former general counsel and deputy general counsel of the U.S.  Department of Education pointing out that since 1965, Congress  has written into three laws strict prohibitions against federal officials  directing, supervising or controlling the curriculum of any school or school  system.

Bob Eitel and Kent Talbert concluded that if the Common Core and the linked  national tests, which the feds are bankrolling to the tune of $330 million, take  full effect, states are likely to become “little more than administrative agents  for a nationalized K-12 program of instruction. … The Department [of Education]  has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do.”

In the Feb. 24 edition of The Chronicle of Higher  Education  (again, no right-wing organ), Peter Wood concluded nationalization “will dim the  bright spots and subdue the sense of local control that is vital to reform,” noting Massachusetts “has conspicuously lowered its standards in order to  qualify for the federal bribe.”

Even if Mr. Duncan and the fans of  Obama-Ed squelch the uprising in South Carolina, the fallout could spark further  revolts across the nation. Maybe there is yet hope for keeping control of  education closest to the people affected: the nation’s families.

Robert Holland is senior fellow for education policy with the Heartland  Institute.

Also seen in The Washington Times and Education News.