A new report by former U.S. Education Department officials questions the legality of federal support for the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a set of education standards which critics say will lead to a national curriculum and tests.
The report, “The Road to a National Curriculum ,” concludes the Obama administration “has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do.”
“The concern is that the assessments developed by the two Race to the Top-funded consortia will end up illegally directing the course of elementary and secondary curriculum across the nation,” said report coauthor Kent Talbert.
The report from the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research carries weight because of its authors. Talbert is former general counsel for the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and chief legal advisor to former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, and Bob Eitel is a former deputy general counsel for the agency. Bill Evers, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and now a Hoover Institution scholar, also contributed.
"The paper establishes how, through the Race to the Top fund, the RTTT Assessment Program, and federal waivers of No Child Left Behind, the USDOE is pushing states to adopt standards and assessments that are favored by the Department,” said Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios.
States, Feds Breaking Federal Laws
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core, which currently consists of grade-level math and language arts requirements. The Obama administration required applicants for Race to the Top grants and for waivers of No Child Left Behind’s most punitive provisions to adopt the standards. The report alleges tying these strings to federal favors shows significant federal involvement in implementing the Core nationwide.
The organizations developing the Core and related tests are funded by the DOE. This consortium is also “‘helping’ states move to national standards and assessments, as well as developing ‘curriculum frameworks’ and ‘instructional modules,’” Stergios said.
These actions, the authors argue, break three laws that prohibit federal involvement in curriculum: the General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
"I hate to be so blunt, but the U.S. Department of Education is violating three federal laws,” Stergios said. “And the fact is that state and local officials who are part of the national standards and assessment efforts are compliant in the breaking of these federal laws.”
Education Secretary Condemns Critics
Education Secretary Arne Duncan in February condemned such criticisms in his first direct statement on the controversy.
“The idea that the Common Core standards are nationally imposed is a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy,” he said. “The Common Core academic standards were both developed and adopted by the states, and they have widespread bipartisan support.”
The report’s authors flatly disagreed, citing federal law and the department’s actions contrary to Duncan’s statements.
“Our greatest concern arises from the Department’s decision to cement the use of the Common Core State Standards and these assessment consortia through conditional NCLB waivers. It doesn’t have statutory authority to impose these conditions,” Eitel said.
The Obama administration’s push for the Core effectively nationalizes the content taught in local schools, said Lance Izumi, senior education director at the Pacific Research Institute.
"Strong-arming states to adopt national standards, national tests, and, very likely, national curricula goes against the Constitution's intent that education policymaking reside at the state and local levels and goes beyond even NCLB, which still allowed states to develop their own standards and tests,” Izumi said.
Izumi said studies on the Core show they are no better than existing state standards and are, “in a number of cases, significantly weaker.”
The Core is also likely to stamp out diversity within education, Evers said.
“This uniformity in curriculum will stifle innovation and prevent states from competing with each other to have the best and most solid curriculum,” he concluded.
“Instead of nationalizing education as the president wants to do, the better solution is to decentralize education,” Izumi said. “Empowering parents is the revolution that America truly needs.”