The desperate plight of some U.S. banks has made the concept
of "nationalizing" banks acceptable. Now it
appears that stimulus money may also be used to nationalize
education. The Department of Education has over $100 billion
for the next two years, and every indication is that much
of this will be used to drive for "voluntary"
federal standards that will drive a national curriculum.
are huge problems with nationalizing our schools, not
the least of which is the fact that nowhere in the Constitution
does the federal government have any responsibility for
education. Since duties not specified in the Constitution
accrue to the states, education is a state's right. However,
that has not prevented the federal government from attaching
strings to federal education money, thus using legal extortion
to mandate policies that it otherwise would have no jurisdiction
to enforce. While federal money constitutes generally
less than 15 percent of total school costs, the "voluntary"
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has used their small portion
to coerce state curriculum coast-to-coast. Add $50 billion
more and the feds are ready to bribe their way to a uniform
curriculum. And the state governors have been in the forefront
of advocating national standards.
first argument being made is that it is the same math
and English and science being taught across the nation.
True. But students are not uniform raw material coming
in, and they should not be uniform products going out
of school. Teaching is different in urban, suburban and
rural settings, and from Barrow Alaska to Miami Florida.
Advocates protest that teachers can teach differently
to the same standards. But our experience with state standards
everywhere under NCLB is that it all condenses into teaching-to-the
test. That makes all classrooms test prep factories. Curricular
decisions end up in the hands of test companies. If uniform
standards and testing is good, then why not just use the
international curricula and tests, such as those one used
by Australia or England? Oh, but American students are
not like the rest of the world, you say. Just my point;
the various states aren't like each other either.
second problem is the track record of "standardized"
education. Only in education do rational folks take a
system that is not working at a lower level and propose
to scale it up to a bigger level. The various states,
driven under NCLB to move to test-driven classrooms, are
suffering the severe side effects of massive early retirements
of veteran teachers, reduced numbers of students wanting
to go into industrialized teaching, and school students
who are bored-to-death. Kansas is not yet Texas, a basket
case where lessons are scripted and students stop work
as soon as they take their spring state tests. National
standardized education has been the model used by nearly
all other countries for a century, and they are not getting
the Nobel Prizes. Our students trained before the reform
fever that began with "Nation at Risk," are
known for creativity because teachers were free to customize
their teaching. American teachers decided what to teach,
when to teach, and how to teach, unfettered by the new
cookie-cutter system. But not any more. State standards
have a proven track record of failure. So why make it
really big problem is funding-funding past this one-time
stimulus surge. Federalized education distances education
decision-makers from the state funding. When school curricular
reforms are made at the local level where the bulk of
money is also generated, limits in tax revenue constrains
the exorbitant ideas of reformers. But when folks in Washington,
DC-primarily education school "visionaries"
with a new fad every 2-3 years-are distant from the revenue
source, they can propose costly "reforms" way
beyond our means to pay for them. We have been calling
them "unfunded mandates" and NCLB was just the
beginning. Education in most states takes up more than
half the state budget. A close-coupling of budget and
programs keeps the cost from running away. Putting Washington
DC in charge of curriculum when states pay the vast majority
of the bill uncouples the system and will lead to runaway
education costs that will make health care inflation seem
new Secretary of Education has two years and over $50
billion that could be used to nationalize our children's
education-and leave No Child Left Unstandardized.
Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.