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The Federalism Debate

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When it comes to setting educational standards, is there any real benefit to state control? In this Education Week Commentary, Robert Gordon claims that states are better off letting the federal government take charge.

While inconsistent state standards make it difficult to effectively compare school performance between states, Gordon argues that national standards would allow for more accurate and across-the-board assessments of school progress. In addition, posits Gordon, if states were then rewarded by the federal government for their improvements, the competition for such rewards would create a "race to the top" that could only benefit teachers and students.

What do you think? Would national standards and tests help improve schools in the United States? And, beyond that, what effect would such standards and tests have on local control of schools?

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Mr. Gordon writes that "the biggest practical concern about national standards is also the simplest: that the federal government will blow it....But this practical concern should be met by practical responses ...An apolitical institution like the National Academies should be responsible for developing national standards and tests."

If history is any guide, this is not a practical solution. In fact, the U.S. tried something much like this 15 years ago and it failed (for details, see http://hnn.us/articles/22591.html). Advocates of national standards must confront a basic political problem- education is inherently political. People and interest groups care deeply about what the schools teach (e.g., see the battles over evolution, sex education, moral values, phonics, etc.) Many of these interested persons carry out ongoing campaigns to influence what is taught in the schools (For details, see Diane Ravitch's book, "The Language Police") It seems improbable that these stakeholders and their representatives in Congress will step aside and let "nonpolitical" experts devise national standards. And, considering how porous the American political system is (i.e., how it allows many venues for interested parties to get involved in policymaking), it seems unlikely that a process could or would be devised to wall off standards-making from politics.


Sincerely,

Kevin R. Kosar, Author
Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards

Our country was built on a foundation of local control of education. People in communities, cities and regions developed the kind of education that suited their needs. Land grant colleges and city run high schools and colleges produced the people who created remarkable progress over more than 200 years.

NCLB has already created havoc with its non-funded mandates, easily manipulated state testing programs, and capitualtion to text book created curriculm.

We need strong local, county and state control of standards. But no federal mandates and devaluation. Funding for education is still mainly rooted in real estate taxation. Meagre and unsupervised federal handouts will not solve the problems that state legislatures and local school boards should shoulder and solve.

Our country was built on a foundation of local control of education. People in communities, cities and regions developed the kind of education that suited their needs. Land grant colleges and city run high schools and colleges produced the people who created remarkable progress over more than 200 years.

NCLB has already created havoc with its non-funded mandates, easily manipulated state testing programs, and capitualtion to text book created curriculm.

We need strong local, county and state control of standards. But no federal mandates and devaluation. Funding for education is still mainly rooted in real estate taxation. Meagre and unsupervised federal handouts will not solve the problems that state legislatures and local school boards should shoulder and solve.

Allowing the Fed to take charge of testing, standards and/or curriculum would be a violation of the 10th Ammendment of the US Constitution. None of the Articles of the Constitution even whisper anything in regards to education and as such, the 10th Amend. rules the day.

Federal standard-setting seems a non-starter on many grounds. Instead, couldn't a private association of interested policy-makers and educational institutions bootstrap a viable implicit set of secondary school standards by promoting use of existing content tests (SAT II subject tests?) rescaled to eliminate norming and instead reflect criterion-referenced scoring. Giving some incentive to students/schools who agree to make aggregate scores publicly available would create the same type of perspective on state standard-setting as is currently provided only for some state test results by the NAEP. This could both create new high school standards and improve existing state standards.

Yes,only if the proposed standards and tests are adequately shared, debated, and adopted by a broad cross section of the American public incliding parents, educators(k-16), large and small business, and policy makers(school boards, state and federal legislators). Ownernship of national academic standards and a fair, comprehensive system to measure ALL students's progress towards them must earn the American public's support like putting a man on the moon in the 1960's or the defeat of communism during the cold war era.

If the above could be achieved, states and local school boards would have the freedom and responsibility to creatively manage and arrange human, fiscal and other resources to help all students achieve the national standards. The primary role of the federal government would change from one of regulation to that of monitoring and communicating results which inform the nation as to our progress towards excellence.

Extraordinary performance and excellence in any endeavor has never been the result of over regulation or bureaucratic control. We made it to the moon by the federl government setting a noble goal, providing realistic resources commensurate to the goal's attainment, and LETTING TALENTED PEOPLE FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET THE HARD WORK DONE!

The vision of NCLB can be a reality for ALL students. However, we must reach consnsus on a common vision for our youth and allow American creativity and initiative to take flight to enable all students to reach this new destination. Our youth deserve nothing less and our nation's collective prosperity depends upon it.

Dr. Sofo is also a co-author of the book, NO BAD SCHOOLS, 2005 @ Booklocker.com

There are several concerns that should be addressed regarding this issue. First, the U.S. Constitution does not give the federal government any responsibilities or powers regarding education. Therefore, the mere creation of a Federal Department of Education is a violation of the constitution. To speak of adding national and federally mandated educational standards only serves to compound the error and constitutional problem.

The second issue deals with our collective political and philosophical viewpoints regarding education in general. Mr. Gordon writes, "The more individuals learn, the more wealth they can create for America. So it is right for our national leaders to define core goals for public schools and to hold them accountable for achieving them." Mr. Gordon's conclusion just doesn't follow his premise. Regardless of whether or not a good education will result in more wealth for our nation, the veracity of this statement has no impact on whether or not the federal government has the constitutional authority to implement national standards. Again, this is a constitutional issue, not one of practicality.

Unfortunately, as the article adequately points out, membership in a particular political party doesn't necessarily demonstrate the candidate's/official's political bias when it comes to political philosophy. It would appear that the conservative party of history has simply adopted the positions of their liberal counterparts, just a few years behind the curve.

At the core, the issue of local or federal control of education has already been addressed. The constitution calls for local/state control. Therefore, rehashing this issue is just a waste of time. Unless of course the debate is centered on a constitutional admendment.

The real issue is the lack of progress being made in our public school system. Liberals will always argue that the way to fix the problem is to throw money at it. The current educational crisis is enough to demonstrate the point that more money isn't the fix-all answer.

Perhaps we should consider real transformation, such as the privatization of our educational system. Of course, for this to work and to pass constitutional issues, it must be done at the state level. However, I think the history of our educationl system shows that we need real change, not more government involvement.

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  • Richard Rimes, Principal: There are several concerns that should be addressed regarding this read more
  • Dr. Ron Sofo, Superintendent, Freedom Area S.D.: Yes,only if the proposed standards and tests are adequately shared, read more
  • Julie Greenberg, high school math teacher: Federal standard-setting seems a non-starter on many grounds. Instead, read more
  • Thom Smink, BED Teacher: Allowing the Fed to take charge of testing, standards and/or read more
  • Chicago curriculum consultant, teacher: Our country was built on a foundation of local control read more

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