In recent years, the federal government has succeeded in expanding their control over health care, financial markets, the auto industry, the coal industry, and more. Now they have gained greater control over our nation’s public school systems with a program that one Georgia lawmaker calls “No Child Left Behind on steroids.”
The federal government is in the process of fundamentally transforming America’s historically decentralized public school system into a nationalized system. They call it the Common Core Curriculum and it is sweeping across the country with a vengeance. 45 states have already fallen into line, accepting federal government grant money in exchange for adopting what amounts to a new national curriculum for math and language arts. But a few states have refused the offer, including Texas, Alaska, Virginia, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Now Georgia is considering reversing its position by rejecting it too.
To help put this into perspective, American school systems operated just fine without any national oversight for about 200 years, until 1980. Before that, there was no federal agency to oversee state and local school districts. All that changed when the Department of Education was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 17, 1979. Today this agency has a massive annual budget of over $50 billion.
But not to worry. As President Obama likes to say, the government does not spend money, it “invests.”
So what has America gotten from this “investment?” Based on standardized test scores, the Department of Education has been a dismal failure. Test scores have been declining steadily for decades. In 2012, reading scores on the SAT hit a 40 year low. According to the College Board, over half the students, 57%, did not score well enough to indicate likely success in college. So it looks like the Department of Education has been another losing investment from our federal government. What a shocker!
But while the Department of Education has delivered dismal test scores, they have succeeded in two things… expanding their own power and spending more taxpayer money. That seems to be the only things they are consistently good at doing. They accomplished that using the same bag of tricks that has worked so well for them in their dealings with state and local governments on other issues. They spend a large part of their $50 billion annual budget to entice states to adopt their programs. In the private sector this is called bribery. For the federal government it is called standard procedure.
Isn’t it interesting that American citizens get jail time for offering cash payments to elected officials in exchange for changed behavior, but for the federal government this is just standard procedure in their dealings with state and local governments? Hmm…
For example, the Department of Education’s latest greatest grant money offer to state governments is called the Race to the Top. The primary performance requirement to get these funds is adoption of the Common Core State Standards. The Race to the Top program is attempting to drive school districts across the country into what amounts to a national “one-size-fits-all” curriculum for math and language arts.
The Common Core Standards Curriculum offers unproven educational benefits. Some educators believe it will even have a negative impact. The educational benefits will not be known for several more years, but by that time states will be stuck in a program they can no longer change. States that accepted the grant money gave up control over their school curriculum. They are now unable to change any of the curriculum standards and are only allowed to make minor changes to course content, not to exceed 15% of the total content. The remaining 85% is now under federal government control.
On the surface, the offer looks like easy money for states, but there are strings attached and significant hidden costs. For example, states are required to adopt new testing procedures, which significantly raises the testing cost per student. The grant money expires after four years, leaving the states stuck paying the higher costs.
Beyond that, the costs of implementing the Common Core Curriculum Standards are enormous. In Texas, the federal government offered $700 million in grant money over four years. But the Texas Education Commissioner, Robert Scott, analyzed the program and determined the total cost of scrapping their curriculum standards and implementing the Common Core would cost Texas between $2.5 and $3.0 billion. After sharing his findings with Texas Governor Rick Perry, the Governor turned down the grant money. Texas schools will maintain their freedom from the mandates of the grant.
Now other states are taking notes from the Texas cost analysis. Georgia state legislator William Ligon invited Commissioner Scott to come to Georgia to share his findings with Georgia lawmakers. So last week, Commissioner Scott came to Georgia and presented his findings to a standing-room only audience at the state Capitol. After their meeting, Congressman Ligon released a newsletter, which provided the following summary of Scott’s visit:
During Scott’s visit at the Capitol, he explained that the Common Core State Standards were developed behind closed doors and that they are owned and copyrighted by unaccountable third parties in Washington, D.C. These standards were never vetted by the people of Georgia in an open, accountable process, and the terms of the grant forbid the State from changing the standards or even adding content that exceeds the threshold of 15 percent.
Commissioner Scott explained how Texas analyzed the Common Core Standards and determined it was a bad financial deal in spite of the “bribe” money.
Scott explained that the State of Texas was wooed by the federal government with a promise of $700 million to sign onto Race to the Top and Common Core. However, after his calculations, he realized that scrapping his State’s current standards and implementing the terms of the grant would cost between $2.5 to $3 billion. In his eyes, it was a sorry trade to shackle Texas to federal mandates, rob Texas citizens of their right to control educational standards, and then stick taxpayers with a bill of at least $2 billion to make up the difference. To add insult to injury, that amount did not include the ongoing maintenance of the system for the years ahead beyond the four years of the grant.
That analysis includes the costs for the whole package, which includes all strings attached. Congressman Ligon explained this finding:
Further, the accompanying tests, developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as the PARCC national testing consortium, will create such testing demands that this will probably become better known as No Child Left Behind on steroids. Scott informed us that the PARCC will cost approximately $30 to $37 per student, in comparison to Georgia’s current costs of between $5 to $10 per student. These estimates do not take into account the additional technology, both in hardware and bandwidth, that will be required at the local level for online testing.
So Texas rejected their offer for $700 million in federal funds and now it appears Georgia might be rejecting their offer for $400 million. Georgia lawmakers are now planning to do their own cost analysis of the Race to the Top program. The results of that analysis will determine whether Georgia stays in the program or gets out.
Isn’t it interesting that despite having an annual deficit exceeding one trillion dollars our federal government is still throwing billions of dollars at states? They act like they can’t find anywhere to cut spending, yet here is an example of where they are spending billions to implement an unproven, unpopular national curriculum that has very questionable educational benefits and adds significant higher costs for taxpayers. Spending $700 million here and $400 million there, pretty soon you are talking about a lot of money.
For the federal government, the Common Core Standards have already been a big success because it has helped them to expand their own power, which is ultimately what this is all about. Decades of declining test scores prove educating our kids is not the primary objective. At least there are still a few states holding out, so the federal government expansion is hitting a few speed bumps. Hopefully more states will follow Texas’ lead by completing a thorough cost analysis. If states that accepted the grant money realize it was a bad deal perhaps they will reverse their position and reject the Common Core Curriculum.