When someone hears bureaucratic terms like “compliance, mandates and penalties,” they might think of the EPA, the IRS, or these days, the Department of Health and Human Services. But another federal government department is fast adopting the language of strict and onerous regulation. Annoyed that Indiana wants to extricate themselves from the Common Core education standards, the U.S. Department of Education is erecting procedural obstacles to make this as difficult possible.
At stake for Hoosiers is $200 million in federal education funds. The Obama Administration is using “No Child Left Behind” waivers to warn Indiana officials of the penalties they face for non-compliance with Common Core. In a political scheme that could only be hatched in Washington, one federal program enacted under George W. Bush and widely derided for undermining local school authority, is pitted against another federal program even more derided for the same reasons.
Horror stories about Common Core are increasing by the day. Police are ejecting or arresting parents from public venues for voicing opposition to Common Core. Social media depicts test questions that make young pupils burst into tears, because they are impossible to answer and make them feel like failures. Meanwhile, elected officials like me are concerned about yet another federal government mandate that dangles $4 billion in federal Race to the Top education grants for local schools under the condition of adherence to Common Core.
Indiana is the first state to officially back out of Common Core. Governor Mike Pence signed into law legislation this spring requiring the state to adopt its own standards and opt-out of Common Core. “I believe our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the state and local level,” Pence said. That sounds simple and agreeable enough.
Hoosiers Against Common Core, however, an advocacy group drawing attention to test questions, data tracking on students and the notion that the standards could morph into a national curriculum, are far from declaring victory. Their concern is that Indiana is simply re-branding the standards, essentially cutting and pasting them into a state-based version of Common Core. There are similar concerns in Arizona, Florida and Utah which are in varying degrees of trying to rid themselves of the politically toxic Common Core. Parents and teachers are not waging this fight only to see an Arizona Common Core, a Florida Common Core or an Indiana Common Core.
This leaves Indiana education officials in the difficult position of having to explain to the U.S. Department of Education why it should keep its waiver, while actually returning decision-making to the state and local level, as the governor promised. Concerned parents are looking for a clean break from Common Core. How did our public education system turn into such a mess?
Retired General Motors executive Bob Lutz recently wrote a book entitled “Car guys vs. Bean Counters…” When Lutz got into the auto business in the 1960s, management knew that to capture the public’s imagination required innovative car design. According to Lutz, the decline of GM began when executives put their faith in numbers and spreadsheets. With the bean counters firmly in charge, decline soon followed.
If Bob Lutz is a car guy, then you can call me an “education guy.” I spent 34 years in Maryland’s public schools as a teacher and an assistant principal. My career started as our nation was on top, coming off an age when we sent men to the moon and returned them safely to the earth. There were no waivers, no Common Core, no ‘No Child Left Behind,’ and no U.S. Department of Education.
What I had back then, and what Governor Pence needs now, and what my home state of Maryland urgently needs, is to give control to teachers in the classroom. Maryland has rushed head first to adopt every federal program in the last several years including Obamacare, Common Core and EPA stormwater regulations, to name a few. The results are always the same – poor execution, millions of dollars wasted and excessive regulation and taxes.
Here is a simple message to anyone concerned about making education work for students and not education bureaucrats. Let teacher’s teach, let them do their job.
Nobody will ever capture a child’s imagination in the classroom from Washington D.C. Common Core is bean counters and bureaucrats run amok. They will destroy our education system. No amount of tinkering or re-branding will ever fix it. End it and return control of the classroom to teachers and local school boards.