The federal government has no authority to make any regulations on classroom curricula or to enforce reform in local schools. So why is every school administrator across America sweating the requirements of No Child Left Behind? The U.S. Department of Education extorts compliance by strings attached to federal funding. If you take federal education money, you have to abide by the requirements.
In a previous column, I calculated federal dollars against the state general fund money for education and said federal dollars were 15 percent of Kansas school funding. I failed to add in the local school funds. That makes the federal share only 6.9 percent of our education spending. The "feds" are controlling Kansas educational policy for barely seven cents on the dollar!
Before the last economic meltdown, several states were frustrated with NCLB restrictions. Nebraska wanted to keep curricular decisions at the local school district level and not write state standards and contemplated pulling out of NCLB, forfeiting $70 million in federal dollars. The subtle threat that federal grants, from road construction to U.S.D.A. free school lunches might be at risk was enough to keep Nebraska in line. If Nebraska had pulled out, Utah and Iowa would have left, then Arkansas and even Kansas might have left too. The "feds" won.
Today, compliance with "Blueprint" is on much shakier grounds. From the start, two states refused to participate in the Race to the Top (RTT) competition that mandates acceptance of the Common Core.
Kansas has officially turned down applying for the second round of RTT funding. This is not "sour grapes" over not winning the first round. The State Board of Education has consistently questioned the wisdom of going after the one-time award when it had so many federal strings attached. Other states are also reconsidering their application for the federal award.
But not so Kentucky. Well before the final draft of Common Core standards was released, the Kentucky Board adopted it. Desperate for the federal money, Kentucky adopted the pig-in-a-poke curriculum sight unseen and promised the feds to use the next summers to retrain their teachers to whatever standards were developed—just award Kentucky the money!
Kansas is not Kentucky. Our State Board deserves credit for not selling out our teachers and administrators and students. At the last Board meeting, they heard the staffers in charge of language arts and math committees explain the differences between Kansas standards and the proposed federal Common Core in language and math. They asked the hard question: are the Kansas standards weaker, equal to, or more rigorous than the Common Core? The answer given was that, unless 10 percent more was added to the federal standards, Kansas standards were stronger. The federal party line has been that state standards all set the bar low. But that is not true for states such as Massachusetts and Kansas.
The State Board discussed at their Tuesday meeting having Commissioner DeBacker send a letter of their concerns to the developers of Common Core, and to the U.S.D.E. protesting their proposal to shift federal money from formulas to competitive funding similar to Race to the Top.
The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says: "The powers not delegated to the United States [federal government] by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." "States rights" has a bad connotation from the 1960s when the term was associated with racial discrimination and where states did not enforce justice. But today’s educational application of the 10th Amendment is a case of "state responsibility." Education is already detailed in every State’s Constitution and consumes over half of most States’ tax dollars.
Under the pretense that math and English "knows no boundaries" and is therefore universal, the feds propose one-size-fits-all standards and procedures. But teaching involves students who are not uniform raw material nor uniform end products. Teaching students in urban Kansas City and rural Kansas is quite different. Federal reforms targeted at failing urban schools make no sense in rural schools.
Education policy should be made at the level that understands the unique local educational conditions. Policy should also be made by those who fund it, so that reforms do not outpace the resources and funding.
There is no need for a U.S. Department of Education.