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A Head’s Up on the Education Front

Apparently there is an effort underway on the part of the federal government to standardize learning curriculums for K-12 grade levels. Our school system is underperforming for the most part and the federal government sees the answer to the problem as being…more federal government intervention, of course.

An opposition group of education reformers has published a manifesto titled “Closing the Door on Innovation”. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Bill Evers, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Policy under President George W. Bush:

Q: Some might say that a national curriculum would promote efficiency.  What is your response?

A: The efficiency we should seek in K-12 education should be systemic and be grounded in sound rules and institutions. If we have pluralistic institutions with the right incentives, we will have better learning and more efficient and productive schooling than if we have a uniform and unified national curriculum. Such a uniform curriculum can too easily be bent in some wrongheaded way in the future.  Monolithic national uniformity is inefficient if it cuts off examination of alternatives, readily becomes stagnant, resists feedback, and all too easily becomes captive of future fads and fancies.”

Q: Is there danger in a one-size-fits-all curriculum?

A: Officials in Washington cannot design a curriculum that is fitting and appropriate for all classrooms in huge country like the United States.

When U.S. Department of Education officials take the wrong path, as will happen at least sometimes, they will take all the public schools with them.  It will be tough for teachers to rectify things singlehandedly in their own classrooms. Only an un-monolithic and multifarious array of local school districts, non-profits, and private companies will have the flexibility and maneuverability to locate errors, fix them, and advance the educational endeavor. Education Department officials should avoid the hubris that develops all too easily inside the Beltway. They should avoid the arrogance of power and try not to hamper technological advances that will diversify curriculum and liberate learning.”

Q: The increasing role of the federal government in education is not a new thing. How did we get to this point?

A: Politicians have promoted an expanding national government role in education during crises.  This national role began with politicians who wanted to expand the frontier after the Revolution by providing for schools to aid land speculators.  It continued during the ratcheting up of the national activity during the Civil War and Reconstruction.  Politicians seized on fear of unemployment after World War I to push the national government into vocational education.  After World War II, a new generation of politicians again played on fears of unemployment to make college education an add-on veterans’ benefit.    During the Cold War, politicians sought to aid the newly emerging class of politically connected professors by supporting teaching and research in the hard sciences, social and behavioral science, and foreign languages.  Then, during the 1960s, the big expansion came in federal aid to K-12, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  This was part of a general effort on the part of liberals and Democrats to get around Republican governors and white-ethnic “big city machine” mayors to deliver federal largesse directly to sympathetic Democratic constituencies, in this case, in part, K-12 education professionals.

The current federal efforts, since the “Nation at Risk” report in 1981, draw on worries at first about Japanese economic success and later the success of China and other East Asian countries.

At the same time, I would point out that American public schools are underperforming, all too many American children aren’t learning much, and Americans’ productivity would improve it they had more knowledge and skills–so there are real problems.  The issue is what should be done about them.

Q:  What is the ideal system to you?

A: I cannot speak for the other organizers of the manifesto or for the other signers, but for me, the ideal system would be decentralized and have a pluralism of mechanisms by which education is delivered to students.

Q: If people agree with you, what should they do?

A: People who oppose the emerging federal policy of a combination of national academic-content standards, national test for all students, and a national curriculum should go on thewww.k12innovation.com website and sign the manifesto.  They should also write their U.S. Senators and their U.S. Representative and ask that Congress exercise its oversight authority on the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts on national tests and national curriculum.  People who belong to Tea Party groups or other politically active groups should try to enlist those groups in the effort to push back against the Education Department’s national standards-national tests-national curriculum initiative.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Three existing federal statutes — the General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently called the No Child Left Behind Act) — all prohibit or guard against the Department interfering with curriculum decisions of the states and local districts. The intent of Congress when it passed these statutes is clear from their legislative history: It is not the function of the U.S. Department of Education to establish the curriculum for K-12 education.

The key point that conservatives should keep in mind is that if the federal government standardizes the curriculum being taught, we can count on it that politics will play a part in that curriculum. Given the direction the situation has been moving in lately, it’s all too likely that politics will dictate a curriculum that teaches future generations of Americans what a “good” thing socialism is and how being a “responsible citizen” involves being totally dependent on the federal government from the cradle to the grave.

If that is not what we want for those coming up behind us, then we need to make our voices heard. So please take the time to read the manifesto and consider signing the petition.

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