••• Education •••

If you liked No Child Left Behind, you’ll love Common Core

As we tour the state discussing K-12 education, the one constant theme is that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has been a millstone around the neck of the entire system. Teachers, administrators, parents, board members, legislators, you name ‘em and people are in near-lockstep agreement that NCLB is, at best, rubbish and, at worst, an educational and constitutional train wreck.

Articulated in countless ways, the arguments against NCLB boil down to more bureaucratic meddling in the classroom interfering with student learning. From states to teachers to students, the classroom experience is less about learning and more about meeting a national standard.

It should be no surprise, then, that many are starting to offer the same criticisms of the Common Core (CC) curriculum. CC is being sold as voluntary, but it turning into yet another federal takeover of a state’s prerogative.

CC was originally envisioned as states deciding on their own to agree to basics of student curriculum and standards. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, what was originally envisioned has been polluted by an increasingly political education apparatus in Washington, D.C.

How are the supposedly voluntary CC being hijacked by the Feds? Both with money and with the desire to get out from underneath that other oppressive, nationally mandated education protocol known as NCLB.

Kansas is like many states and continues to feel the pinch of a very tough economy. In response, the financing of states priorities are under review. No different with K-12 education and Race To The Top money being offered to states through the U.S. Department of Education. Education Week’s blog said it best last March when describing the federal dictate to states on Race To The Top funding.

I’m sure you remember, because it set a lot of people’s neck hairs on end, that President Obama recently proposed that Title I [Race To The Top] funding for disadvantaged students be tied to whether states have adopted the Common Core State Standards.

And I am also sure you know that in order to get the most bang for their buck in Race to the Top applications, states have to promise to adopt the common standards.

It is unrealistic to believe that states won’t belly up to the federal bar for this happy hour special. Policy makers respond to the same incentives as do individuals and what is ceding a little K-12 control to the Feds in exchange for more money? Nearly every other area of public policy is moving in that direction, so why not education?

Second, as states work to get out from underneath the widely-panned NCLB, they are being encouraged (much like the Corleone Family encouraged filmmakers to hire family members) to adopt CC. Once again, the Education Week blog offers some insight into what is takes for a state to score a NCLB waiver.

…a key requirement for states seeking a waiver is that they have adopted “college- and career-ready standards” and assessments. The standards don’t have to be the [Common Core standards]. But if they’re not, a state will have to certify, through its public higher education system, that its standards are tough enough that mastery of them will serve as a passport allowing students to skip remedial courses in college and go right into credit-bearing work.

That is a pretty powerful ONE-TWO combination for states to ignore, “Hey Kansas! We’ve got money for you to spend on K-12 education and we’ll even let you off the hook from NCLB. All you have to do is let us effectively run your schools from Washington.”

Which gets us back to where we started as the one common theme as we talk to people around Kansas – more federal, and Topeka, involvement in education does nothing to help Kansas students learn. In fact, returning control to local school boards is at the heart of Governor Brownback’s K-12 finance plan. Regardless of its other faults, the plan recognizes the imperative to put control in the hands of those closest to actual student learning.

Assurances that CC won’t turn into NCLB on steroids amount to a collective “trust us” from its proponents. “Things weren’t perfect with the previous regulations, but we’re smarter now and have learned from our mistakes. This time we’ll get it right,” is a common enough bureaucratic refrain as to be cliché.

Let’s stop pretending that CC is voluntary and call it what it is – an offer state can’t refuse.

Proponents of the education status quo often turn to images of a dedicated teacher, toiling for hours with little pay to help Johnny learn his multiplication tables. Teacher and student grinding out hour after hour to learn and succeed and it works because we all had a teacher who stuck around after class to help us get past that stumbling block and remember their dedication to us.

How does more red tape and bureaucratic intrusion help that teacher get through to a struggling child? It doesn’t and every teacher we’ve spoken with will be happy to tell you about how NCLB is driving them out of the classroom.

CC is no different and further threatens to undermine the best parts of our educational system and institutionalize the worst.