uniformityby Daryl Luna

The New York Times reports:

A panel of educators convened by the nation’s governors and state school superintendents proposed a uniform set of academic standards on Wednesday, laying out their vision for what all the nation’s public school children should learn in math and English, year by year, from kindergarten to high school graduation.

The new proposals could transform American education, replacing the patchwork of standards ranging from mediocre to world-class that have been written by local educators in every state.

Don’t be fooled. This is just another effort to subvert state sovereignty in the guise of “doing the right thing for our children.” Whether it be the Carter-era formation of the Department of Education, the Bush-era “No Child Left Behind” legislation, or the Obama-era “race to the top” program, the federal government has over the past century led a concerted effort to fully extend its reach over the entire arena of education. The problem is that the federal government has zero constitutional authority to be involved in the business of education, and the expanded federal role has not led to positive results. These acts have merely been blind, unconstitutional power grabs–not improvements for education.

Alaska and Texas are the only states that refused to participate in the standards-writing process. I say, “GOOD FOR THEM!” They are exerting their right under the Tenth Amendment to manage their own education systems and refusing to participate in an unconstitutional program. If only they would do the same in a whole host of other areas, we might be getting somewhere.

By participating in this program, states will be opening themselves up further to a floodgate of federal influence, and that is not a good thing. As I have already said, the federal government has no constitutional right to be involved in education, but there are practical concerns as well.

Massachusetts is already finding the standards to be a problem. Their state standards are actually higher than the uniformed ones being offered up. Should they lower them to fit in with the masses? Moreover, should any state compromise its current pursuits by adopting a program that cannot guarantee success.

At the heart of a free republic is the concept of localization. That is, local entities know their needs better than a central government. It is simple enough. Localization better addresses local problems because solutions are carried out within a local context. I am not saying that all states are doing a stellar job in education. In fact, no state can or will succeed in education without proper competition and market incentives. Indeed, we must meet the challenges of education, but meeting them locally will be the key.

Another problem that plagues the unified standards plan is a neglect of human action in education. Not only is it unreasonable to assume children can all be held to the same standards and achieve at similar levels, it  is unreasonable to assume that students can achieve at all unless they are truly invested in their education. A Harvard-bound honor student and a slum-dwelling drug addict can be produced by the same schools with the same standards; it is the students, parents, teachers, and communities that make the difference. Until we realize that student achievement is not a direct result of dollars and programs, we will continue to see failed schools and wasted resources.

Look to the wealth of data if you are looking for empirical proof against government involvement in schools. There has been much policy research on the matter. I merely want to alert you to the fact that there is absolutely no convincing evidence that higher standards in education produce better results and point to the philosophical reasons you should be opposed to these latest educational developments.

The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby rightly notes:

[T]he very nature of American society – a nation of 300 million comprising a multitude of ethnic, religious, social, and ideological traditions – argues against the imposition of one-size-fits-all education standards. There is no uniform answer to the question of what parents want most from their children’s education. “The greater the diversity of the people falling under a single schooling authority,’’ McCluskey observes, “the greater the conflict, the less coherent the curriculum, and the worse the outcomes.’’

Anyone who called for legislation to establish mandatory national standards for television programming or restaurant menus would be laughed at: Americans don’t think the government is competent to decide what shows they can watch on TV or what they can order for dinner when eating out. Is it any less risible to think that government knows best when it comes to your children’s education?

In fact, a uniform set of achievement standards will most likely have the same effect as more educational spending–public education will still produce the same results regardless of government influence. Only the cost and federal influence will increase.

This is an influence that we cannot afford. To solve our educational woes, the state should be getting out of the education business altogether. Funds should be returned to the taxpayers to educate according to their own desires. Private schools and home schooling already does an overall better job for a fraction of the price per student. It is prime time for privatization, but that will not occur in the near future. Until then we should be fighting back against centralized education attempts and unconstitutional federal action in a state’s matter.

As Jacoby concludes so will I:

Rather than centralizing even more government authority over the nation’s schools, genuine reform would move in the opposite direction. It is parents – not local, state, or federal officials – who should control education dollars. School and state should be separated, with schools being funded on the basis of their ability to attract students and teach them well. The primary responsibility for children’s education should be vested in the same people who bear the primary responsibility for their feeding, housing, and religious instruction: their mothers and fathers.

More government control is not the cure for what ails American schools. The empowerment of parents is. No teachers’ union, no school board, no secretary of education, and no president will ever love your children, or care about their schooling, as much as you do. In education as in so much else, high standards are important – far too important to hand off to the government.

Daryl Luna is an avid defender of the Constitution, a conservative/libertarian/classical liberal. Some just call him a “Ron Paul Republican.” Most of all, he is a Christian and a “Reformed/Calvinist” one at that. He blogs at In Defense of the Constitution with the goal of giving his opinion of the world and presenting the issues from a constitutional perspective.

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