Sunday, October 20, 2013

Common Core - An Exercise in Government Expansion

I wrote the following editorial two years ago now, but I feel it still applies. No matter how the Oklahoma Department of Education likes to spin it - Common Core was NOT local at its inception, and will NEVER serve taxpayers and parents at a local level.  It is a construct of business leaders and the nation's governors who felt that schools were creating a crisis in education for the nation simply because business leaders did not want to pay for on the job training - they wanted STATES to pay for it for them in public/private partnership deals and tax credits.  These people did not believe - nor will they ever believe - that parents and communities can solve education issues on their own.  They will always believe they know better than those being served by the institutions they desire to usurp from local control and run for themselves.  To them, taxpayers, parents and education officials are the little people - too stooopid to do it themselves. Sadly, many of us have decided this is the case and simply abdicate our personal and parental authority to the government now on a regular basis - acting like the babies the elites believe we are.

The longer we go into this Common Core exercise, the more we realize how right Thomas Jefferson was when he penned, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have."  And so in that spirit...

A number of recent Oklahoman editorials have disparaged those NOT backing  ACE tests and the A-F grading system.  Apparently, those of us begging to differ with these complicated, federally-derived, accountability systems want dumbed down standards that will graduate scores of unemployable public school students all across Oklahoma. 

Not to dodge credit, but that trend likely began in 1965 when the first 31 page, 605 section Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now No Child Left Behind – NCLB) unleashed a tidal wave of federal regulations upon local schools and established the ‘pay for play’ scheme that keeps states towing the line.  Today’s NCLB is 9,601 sections and an untold number of actual printed pages.
Could unchecked growth of federal control over public education be why NAEP reading scores for 17-year olds have increased only one point since 1971 and NAEP math scores for 17-year-olds have increased only two points – over 41 years?  Why have SAT scores in the verbal category dropped 25 points since 1972 and math scores increased by only one?

According to Federal Compliance Works Against Education Policy Goals, “…fiscal and administrative requirements often lead to expensive and time-consuming compliance processes that are not related to improving student achievement or school success.”  Lindsay Burke reports in The Dead Hand of Education Reform that, “…while the feds provided just 7% of education funding, they accounted for 41% of the paperwork burden imposed on the states…”

Santa Fe South High School in Oklahoma City personified this thesis recently when they submitted their NCLB waiver (A-F) paperwork to the SDE only to find out that, while their test scores were fine, they were placed on the failing school list because their paperwork wasn’t filled out properly. 

The day the A-F rules disapproval passed the Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee, Governor Fallin issued a press release supporting the rules and the SDE touted their receipt of nearly 7 million dollars in School Improvement Grants to be used for “turning around” schools graded as ‘failing’ under the NCLB-prescribed A-F grading system.  

My son, in first grade at our local public elementary, doesn’t know his basic math facts or parts of speech, but has had week long units on Global Warming and Rainforest Ecology between his 2 days a week of Art (his is an Arts Integration school).  Recently, his teacher told me she just “doesn’t have time to teach [math facts] to mastery” because she has to teach to the test – the results of which will soon determine whether she keeps her job.

Vilifying those of us who believe education is a local issue best dealt with by parents, district school boards and education officials rather than nameless faceless bureaucrats at the federal – or even state level – will not change the fact that a layered top down bureaucracy will never solve governance problems like a locality.  Government closest to the people (parents) is always best because it is nearest the needs of the people (students/parents) being served and paying for the services (parents).