Given the generally accepted political tactics that have become common practice in Washington, D.C., it should come as no great surprise that the Federal government has again employed the doppelganger tactics of bribery and blackmail as weapons against the fifty States. This time, local school boards and state education agencies are being further eviscerated and the content of the curriculum taught in local schools will now come from Washington.
As seen from Washington, the roles of local and state boards of education are now primarily confined to carrying out education and related policy as promulgated by their betters in the nation's capital. Following steadily escalating levels of Federal encroachment for the last fifty years of so, the tipping point has been reached and the pretense of state and local control of public education is all but gone.
In a move to further homogenize what is taught to the children in each state's schools, the United States Department of Education induced its proxies to promulgate national standards for "voluntary" adoption by each state. Referred to in governmental newspeak as Common Core Standards, they have been ramrodded into place employing the same tactics that were used to pass our unpopular national healthcare law and will result in a national education curriculum for every student in every grade in every public school in the United States.
The bribery comes into play through withholding Race to the Top (RTT) funding from states unless they have adopted the new standards in a manner directed by the United States Department of Education. Money will then be distributed to the states based on how well they comply with Federal requirements, rather than on a formula basis. Those who are most compliant and obsequious will get the most money.
The blackmail comes through selective enforcement of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements to punish all who resist. Only the states that adopt the new curriculum will be issued "waivers" from enforcement of NCLB penalties and deadlines by the Department of Education.
According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, at least three out of every four schools fall below the NCLB goals and are subject to enforcement sanctions. This explains why Washington has not moved to repeal or significantly amend NCLB; it is too powerful a weapon with which to bludgeon any uncooperative states into submission on Common Core Standards adoption, or just about anything else.
Duncan is apparently following the advice of fellow Chicagoan, Al Capone, who once opined that you can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.
States that play ball will get billions of redistributed taxpayer dollars from the Department of Education, as well as "waiver" relief from NCLB requirements. Those who do not comply get none of the billions in RTT money and will be subject to the Draconian enforcement and penalties of NCLB. That's some choice.
This power to pick winners and losers is unilaterally controlled by the Secretary of Education and can be employed at his discretion to reward or punish states based on any criteria he chooses to use. If that's not enough to induce fear, Duncan also oversees monitoring of many other funding streams that feed local schools and education departments in every state. Think IRS audit, times ten.
The worst part of all is that the money being used to carry out the bribe-and-blackmail scheme in this election year comes from the taxpayers in each state, anyway. Given the pressure on states' budgets and the billions of dollars involved, it is not surprising that most have already acquiesced and capitulated. The pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will involve much more money and portends even greater escalation of this sort of bribery, blackmail and coercion in the coming years.
This all adds up to another train wreck for public education and the further politicization of the billions of dollars in resources that should remain in the states where better decisions can be made by locally elected officials and parents. Now, even more hard-won state and local funding will be diverted from classroom instruction and into the growing cost of compliance as schools scramble to avoid sanctions and protect themselves from their very own Federal government. Capone couldn't have done much better.
A consistent history of failures has led us to become cynical and expect irresponsibility and gross inefficiency from the United States Department of Education at every turn, and the movement toward Common Core Standards will be more of the same. Now, though, beyond just the usual ineptitude from Washington, we are all being forced to take yet another giant step down the insidious Orwellian road toward total Federal control of our schoolsand much more.
Editor's Note: Terry Wallace is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Innovation in Education and a Senior Fellow in the Government Policy Research Center at West Liberty University, and serves as a Senior Fellow at the Public Policy Foundation in Morgantown.