Monday, June 30, 2014

The Populist Uprising Against Common Core Is Libertarian and It’s Winning

It recognizes that there is no one answer to fixing education in America

When Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.)  announced last week that he would pull his state out of Common Core, he may have been sounding the death knell of the national education standards. Though a confluence of pushy and powerful interest groups have promised that they invented the solution to the American education crisis, people just aren't buying that more top-down standardization of America's education system is the answer.

The populist uprising against the national education standards is a dramatic and recent phenomenon, given that almost no one had even heard of Common Core until just two years ago. The standards were developed in 2009 by education policy bureaucrats at the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. President Obama's Department of Education took an immediate interest, and the federal government encouraged state governors and legislatures to sign on to the standards by bribing them with Race to the Top grant money. This led 45 state governments to commit to Common Core implementation, even though hardly anyone knew what that would cost (lots of money) or require (retraining teachers, purchasing new technology).

Since then, the American people have had ample time to learn about Common Core—and the more they hear, the less they like it.

Fierce opposition to the standards is remarkably nonpartisan. Both conservative grassroots organizations and teachers unions are urging state legislatures to resist Core implementation. Thousands of parents and teachers have shown up to town hall meetings to demand that their school boards don't hand over curriculum sovereignty to regional or federal education authorities.

The outrage among Tea Party groups is particularly problematic for Republican leaders and prospective candidates who signed on to the standards, including Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a major Core cheerleader. It is very likely that being pro-Common Core will be a toxic position in any conservative presidential primary. Jindal's denunciation of the standards last week is as good an indication as any that he wants to keep the base on his side.

Still, the Core is not without its supporters. A confluence of powerful interest groups—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, textbook giant Pearson, and standardized testing partnerships PARCC and Smarter Balanced—remain dedicated to the standards.

As a nominally conservative think tank, the Fordham Institute has led the way in arguing that concerns about Common Core being a federal takeover of education are unfounded. According to Fordham's Michael Brickman, "There are absolutely legitimate examples of federal overreach from the Obama administration. But I don't think Common Core is one of them because… it was something that was led by the governors and the state education chiefs."

People are unconvinced. While polling on Common Core varies wildly depending on how the questions are phrased, a recent poll release by pro-Core group Achieve, Inc. found that people who reported knowing something about the standards gave them an unfavorable review. Achieve, Inc. blamed Core "opponents who in the past year have made their opposition known through all media outlets, leaving a more negative 'impression' among voters."

The opponents are winning, and if Jindal's flip flop is any indication, the momentum seems to be shifting against Common Core. Libertarians should see this as a triumph.

Indeed, the populist uprising against Common Core is undeniably libertarian. It recognizes that there is no one answer to fixing education in America. It understands that a new wave of fancy government-enforced solutions is likely to fall short of solving anything. Instead, government needs to get out of the way, stop trapping kids in failing public schools based on where they were born, and stop using them as conscripted labor for standardized testing companies. Efforts that empower parents to fix their own local schools will always be more successful than cumbersome national initiatives.

After decades of politicians trying to solve the education problem by spending more money and proposing more standardization, people of all political stripes are simply unconvinced that there is one magic "fix" and that it will be invented in a federal laboratory. Instead, people are wising up to the demonstrable fact that more choice and local autonomy produce the conditions most favorable for students to discover and flourish in school environments that suit their individual needs.


More Pushback: Tennessee Quits Common Core Aligned Test

Tennessee has removed itself from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing consortium aligned to the Common Core national education standards, joining the ranks of 18 other states pushing back against Common Core.

Gov. Bill Haslam, Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman and the chair of the state board of education, Fielding Rolston, sent a letter to PARCC CEO Laura Slover announcing the state’s decision to exit PARCC and re-adopt the old state exam, the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program. This letter follows legislation passed by the state legislature and signed by Haslam in May.

The proposal requires that “the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program tests, inclusive of achievement, end-of-course and the comprehensive writing assessments, shall be administered in the subjects of English language arts and math in grades three through eleven (3-11) during the 2014-15 school year”—which will begin this fall. The proposal also requires the state department of education to craft a new state test that will be implemented by the 2015-16 school year.

The letter states:

Tennessee is hereby withdrawing from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and will no longer be a governing state or a participating state.

Shortly after Common Core’s inception in 2009, the national standards “common to a significant number of states” were immediately incentivized by the administration with $4.35 billion in Race to the Top competitive grants and No Child Left Behind waivers. Forty-six states signed on to the standards with the agreement that they implement them by the 2014-15 school year.

But to add to the bureaucratic boondoggle, the administration also directly financed two national testing consortia, the PARCC exam and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and created a technical review panel, housed at the Department of Education.

Tennessee’s move leaves only 16 states and the District of Columbia remaining in the PARCC testing consortium — down from the original 25 states.

SBAC also is seeing a decline in membership. Of the 31 original states that adopted the assessments, 25 remain.

In total, 19 states have now pushed back against the Common Core—including four that have now exited the standards completely. As the fall implementation deadline looms near, states are taking the chance to reclaim their standard-setting autonomy.


North Carolina Enacts Law Protecting Student Prayer in Public Schools

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill into law last week that protects the religious liberty of public school students, including their right to pray, share religious viewpoints, and distribute religious literature at school without harassment from school officials.

S.B. 370 was introduced in March 2013. It passed 106-9 in the North Carolina House and 48-1 in the state Senate before Gov. McCrory signed it on June 19th.

The new law’s stated goal is “to clarify student rights to engage in prayer and religious activity in school, to create an administrative process for remedying complaints regarding exercise of those student rights, and to clarify religious activity for school personnel.”

Among other things, the law protects a student’s right to “pray, either silently or audibly and alone or with other students,” to “attempt to share religious viewpoints with other students,” and to “possess or distribute religious literature,” provided that any activity is done in an orderly fashion. It also provides protection for student-led religious groups, and states that “a student shall not penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of the student’s work.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) spoke out against S.B. 370, claiming that it “could serve to ostracize students of different beliefs.”

The ACLU-NC also said that the legislation “is completely unnecessary” and that the right to religious expression in the public schools is “already well-protected.”

However, concern about the issue of religious liberty in public schools was aroused in 2012 when a poem written by a six-year-old girl in McDowell County was censored because it contained the word “God.’

The child had written the poem in honor of her grandfather, and planned to read it aloud in her elementary school’s annual Veteran’s Day program. But the school principal told her she could not recite the phrase “he prayed to God for peace, he prayed to God for strength” after one parent complained.

When questioned, the school’s principal said that she had decided to “err on the side of caution to prevent from crossing the line on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.”

“The North Carolina bill is the kind of legislation that is needed in every state,” The Catholic League said  in a statement. The League said that it will be contacting governors across the United States advocating for similar laws.

Earlier this month, California high school graduate Brooks Hamby was forced to rewrite his salutatory graduation speech three times to eliminate all references to his Christian faith. However, he made the remarks during the school's graduation ceremony anyway, quoting the Bible, which he called “the biggest best-selling book of all time."

In contrast, a Washington high school’s drama award ceremony in May featured profanity, sex toys and and offensive jokes by a teacher who later apologized, but faced no disciplinary action.


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