Grading Candidates’ Common Core Fight
The Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates was issued in August by American Principles in Action, The Pulse 2016, and Cornerstone Policy Research Action. This report grades the Republican presidential candidates according to their willingness to protect the nation’s students from Common Core and its federally mandated provisions.
Candidates demonstrate their priorities and values by the choices they make regarding Common Core (CC). Do they listen to parents and value their input? Do they respect the Constitution and the legislative process? Or do they favor inferior standards imposed on states by a federal bureaucracy and education elites?
The report provides documented facts about the standards, outlines their inadequacies, and identifies the players involved in foisting the experiment on students.
One thing that candidates, and everyone else, should understand is the “nexus between the poor quality of the Common Core and federal involvement.” The report explains that:
“In late 2008, private groups convinced the incoming Obama Administration to push the standards into the states with a carrot-and-stick approach. Those private groups then drafted the Common Core standards in response to the ensuing federal grants. They drafted the standards on the premise that they would be a monopoly. They did not draft them on the premise that the standards would have to pass parental muster or would have to be better than world-class standards like the old Massachusetts standards.”
The Grading System
The Common Core Report gives each candidate a final letter grade, determined by averaging three subcategories that can be described as follows:
1. Commitment to ending Common Core
2. Commitment to protecting state and local decision making
3. Commitment to protecting student and parental privacy
Authors of the report say that consideration was given to actions candidates have taken and that recognition is given that not all have been in a position to do much.
“Governors have played a direct role in implementing, or refusing to implement, Common Core directly; senators have either seriously fought to restrict the federal intrusion in No Child Left Behind or have acquiesced to the federal power grab; and non-office holding candidates have only been able to make strong, general statements, which is a good first step.”
The A Team
Starting with the good news, both Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul receive the grade of A- by the report’s authors. Both candidates supported Sen. Grassley’s 2013 and 2014 efforts to defund Common Core.
Senator Cruz was against Common Core from the beginning and has remained unwavering in his opposition. He says, “I think we should repeal every single word of Common Core.” He voted against S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act that is an unsatisfactory NCLB reauthorization written by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA). He supported Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s bill seeking to impose parental authority to opt children out of CC testing. Cruz’s actions and his statements earn him the grade of A-.
Sen. Rand Paul “has paid more attention to the Common Core issue than most other candidates and has spoken forcefully against it,” according to the report. He wrote an op-ed opposed to S.1177 (Breitbart.com, 7-8-15) and voted against it. He supported the Lee bill that would increase parents’ freedom to opt their students out of testing. In campaign speeches Paul proposes dismantling the U.S. Dept. of Education. His privacy position is strong enough to warrant a B, making Paul’s overall grade an A-.
The B Team
Gov. Bobby Jindal has done much to halt Common Core in Louisiana, including supporting good anti-CC legislation and suing the Dept. of Education in federal court over its coercive and unconstitutional use of Race to the Top grants. In 2014, he signed laws that substantially increase parental rights and protect student privacy. The report says that “Jindal stumbled out of the gate on Common Core, but he has righted himself and has admirably pushed back against the federal overreach.” Jindal’s grade is B+.
Sen. Lindsey Graham’s presidential candidacy website portrays an anti-Common Core tenor. But Graham did not sign Sen. Grassley’s 2013 letter and claims he was not in Washington when he could have voted against S. 1177, the Every Student Achieves Act that some say effectively cements Common Core in place.
In February of 2014, Graham introduced Senate Resolution 345, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz and others. It was “a resolution strongly supporting the restoration and protection of State authority and flexibility in establishing and defining challenging student academic standards and assessments, and strongly denouncing the President’s coercion of States into adopting the Common Core State Standards by conferring preferences in Federal grants and flexibility waivers.” SR 345 gained no traction. The report gives Graham a grade of B.
Sen. Rick Santorum’s grade shows the effect of ranking candidates on three levels. Santorum receives an A on Ending Common Core and a B+ on Protecting State and Local Decision Making. But he receives only a C+ on Protecting Student Privacy. The report says that Santorum was anti-Common Core before it became “fashionable.” In a speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, Santorum said Obama’s education policy solution “has been to deny parents choice, attack private schools, and nationalize curriculum.” The report gives Santorum credit for attacking CC not just on the level of federal intrusion, but on the “poor quality” of the standards, something some candidates fail to address. The report gives Santorum the final grade of B.
Dr. Ben Carson has no Common Core track record. His campaign website and speeches show a grasp of the issues involved. He laments what he calls the “troubling trend of the U.S. Department of Education increasingly trying to dictate how children are educated in our primary and secondary schools.” Carson continues, “This must stop and Common Core must be overturned.” Speaking at Eagle Forum Council in September, Carson seemed to favor new technology that can measure students’ responses; it is hoped that he’ll further investigate the intrusion into students’ privacy that many feel this technology represents. The report gives Carson the grade of B-.
Donald Trump says, “Common Core has to be ended. It’s a disaster.” Like Carson, Trump has no Common Core track record so voters must decide if they choose to believe or distrust his campaign pledges. The authors say, “Citizens view him as having the courage and will to stand and fight, something that many GOP candidates have seemed to lack in years past.” Trump could further increase his lead if he spoke out more often about Common Core and the issue of federal intrusion into education. The report gives Trump the grade of B-.
The C Team
Carly Fiorina did run for office and has made statements related to CC, although like the other outside candidates, she has no definitive Common Core track record. She now calls Common Core “a really bad idea,” but in 2010, when she was a California senate candidate, she praised Race to the Top grants, the federal “carrot” the Obama administration used to entice states to sign on to Common Core. At that time she also used Common Core code words like “internationally benchmarked standards and assessments” and “robust data systems.” More recently a Fiorina spokesperson called Race to the Top grants “just the latest example of the federal bureaucracy caving to the powerful interests in Washington and abandoning its original goals.” The report gives Fiorina the grade of C+.
Gov. Mike Huckabee has what the report calls “a checkered past on the issue of Common Core.” He originally called it a “governor-controlled states’ initiative,” which it never was. In 2013, Huckabee suggested that Common Core be “rebranded” and that states should not “retreat,” which “gut-stabbed” grassroots opponents at the very time they were gaining traction, according to the report.
Huckabee’s campaign website states, “I oppose Common Core and believe we should abolish the federal department of education.” The report’s authors hope he means what he now says but based on his past actions they give him the grade of C.
Sen. Marco Rubio’s Common Core position is complicated. In 2011, before Common Core was even on most people’s radar, Rubio “wrote a letter to Secretary Duncan questioning the legality of using federal No Child Left Behind waivers to drive policy changes, like the adoption of Common Core, in the states.” But at the August Fox News debate, Rubio answered a question in a manner that indicates he missed an episode of CC. He said that the U.S. Dept. of Education might “begin to say to local communities, ‘You will not get federal money unless do you things the way we want you to do it.’”
As the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey commented:
“Rubio is right to be concerned about what the federal government might do because, well, it has already done those things.”
Sen. Rubio gets kudos for voting against Sen. Lamar Alexander’s S.1177 and for voting for Sen. Cruz’s proposal to return accountability to the states, particularly because he “faced intense pressure from Republican leadership to do the opposite” on both occasions. The authors express concern about Rubio’s commitment to student privacy since he co-sponsored the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act (S. 1195), which would create a federal database on students for at least 15 years after they enter the workforce.” The report gives Rubio a C.
Earning a D
Governor Chris Christie is keeping New Jersey strapped to Common Core-aligned PARCC tests, while implementing a “review” of Common Core standards in the state. Similar reviews in other states have led to name changes in an effort to rebrand CC rather than to eliminate it or to make substantive changes. Indeed, changes can’t be made to the copyrighted standards, which allow only 15% alteration by any state. (That’s about enough flexibility to add back cursive handwriting.)
Keeping PARCC Common Core-aligned tests means CC will be taught in classrooms. As New Jersey’s Seton Hall University education professor Chris Tienken says, “What gets tested, gets taught.” The report gives Christie the grade of D+.
Gov. Jeb Bush is a longtime and unabashed supporter of everything Common Core. Ever since he began the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is “heavily funded by the Gates Foundation,” it has promoted Common Core. (Bush is no longer affiliated with FEE, but the report calls it his “legacy.”) Although not turning away from CC, Bush has recently tried to diminish his support of federal involvement in education. To some this represents more a campaign ploy than a change of heart. The report says, “He has propagated the false narrative that the Common Core standards are merely learning goals and are of high quality.” They give him the grade of F.
Gov. John Kasich is the other candidate who gets an F for being “an unapologetic cheerleader for the Common Core.” The report says, “His only response to the large and active anti-Common Core grassroots operation in Ohio is to make fun of them.” It’s effectively too late for Bush or Kasich to back away from Common Core. It would be nothing but political posturing.
The Common Core Report suggests that Republican presidential candidates’ opposition to the standards should be a bigger campaign issue than it is. (Common Core was only mentioned one time in the second debate; it was a brief comment by Trump criticizing Bush.) The authors state:
Rather than championing the big issue and truly demonstrating their presidential mettle, some candidates are making it into a small issue. They are parsing out the issue in order to voice opposition to some aspect of the problem but fail to address the overall concerns of parents. These candidates actually favor Common Core, they do not understand the issue, or they hope that the small approach will save them from offending Common Core proponents.
The full report can be found at ThePulse2016.com in the Report Card section.
Teachers Saving Children
At the 2015 National Education (NEA) union convention held in Orlando, Florida, sentries made certain that all who entered were delegates wearing badges or their credentialed guests. Once inside, there was a huge Exposition Hall where vendors sold delegates everything from shoes to pet insurance. Various interest groups set up booths in order to catch the attention of delegates.
Some of the over 150 booths represented NEA programs, like NEA Healthy Futures. At this booth a huge bowl of condoms was on the counter; it is unclear if the prophylactics were meant for attendees’ personal use or to take back to their classroom students. Some booths host “NEA approved caucuses,” like the Women’s Caucus and others that promote the radical social policies of the union.
NEA union policy is one of “reproductive choice,” meaning they believe abortions should be freely available at any time to all that desire them for any reason. The union funds organizations that provide abortions, like Planned Parenthood.
For seventeen years, Teachers Saving Children has rented exhibit space at the union convention. They are a stalwart group of teachers and retired teachers who present the sanctity of life message to hundreds of educators attending the exposition. Teachers Saving Children’s primary purpose is advocacy for all innocent human life, from conception to natural death.
Teachers Saving Children tries to change hearts through various means, one of which is providing materials that can be used in the classroom by educators who teach human development. Their booth in Orlando exhibited models of babies in the womb at different stages of gestation so that passersby could see what the various stages of life are from the moment of conception.
In Orlando, Teachers Saving Children gave out handmade afghans to expectant mothers. Those who manned the booth put lifelike baby dolls into the arms of as many delegates as possible. The adorable dolls are the same weight as newborn babies, have hair and even delicate eyelashes, and are dressed like they’re ready to make the trip home from the hospital.
The organization’s mission to educate their colleagues about the sanctity of human life was advanced in Orlando. Once a doll was in a delegate’s arms, they felt like they were holding a real child and many gathered around to look at the “baby.”
Teachers Saving Children is a non-profit organization based in Ohio. They’ll be at the NEA convention next July in Washington, D.C. Their website is TeachersSavingChildren.org
Arne Duncan’s Regrets
On September 23, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was interviewed by an Education Week reporter who asked him about his biggest regrets during the years he’s been a Cabinet secretary. The interview took place during Duncan’s sixth annual fall bus tour of schools.
Duncan regrets not instituting federal early childhood education programs that would put three- and four-year old children in school all day. Although it has repeatedly been demonstrated that there is little academic benefit derived from government early childhood programs, and that they can cause emotional damage, Duncan wants very young children out of their homes and in expensive institutional settings paid for by the federal government.
Duncan says, “Another regret is the whole issue of gun violence, which has haunted me since I was a little boy.” It is unclear what Duncan wishes he had done but some may wonder if he hoped to curtail Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.
Duncan’s third stated regret is that he wasn’t able to give universal “financial aid to undocumented students.” He says, “There are just these kids who’ve worked so hard and played by all the rules, and gotten good grades, and been community leaders, and we can’t offer them federal financial aid.” He calls it “heartbreaking.” Taxpayers might disagree with the pondering of the Harvard University-educated sociology major. The public doesn’t want to pay for people here illegally to attend college free any more than they wish to force three-year olds to attend school.
What the nation may regret most about Duncan’s stint at the Obama Department of E d u c a t i o n is Common Core and the m a n d a t e d tests and aligned curriculum it is imposing on states.
Stanley Kurtz sums it up in his 2014 National Review article titled “Time for Congressional Hearings on Common Core.” Kurtz says:
“When the story of the Common Core is finally told, it’s going to be ugly. It’s going to show how the sponsors of the Common Core made a mockery of the Constitution and the democratic process. It’s going to show how the Obama administration pressed a completely untested reform on the states, evading public debate at both the federal and state levels. It’s going to show how a deliberative process that ought to have taken years was compressed into a matter of months. It’s going to show how legitimate philanthropic funding for an experimental education reform morphed into a gross abuse of democracy. It’s going to show how the Obama Education Department intentionally obscured the full extent of its pressure on the states, even as it effectively federalized the nation’s education system. It’s going to show how Common Core is turning the choice of private — especially Catholic — education into no choice at all.”
In October, Arne Duncan, the captain of Obama’s Common Core ship, resigned effective at the end of 2015.
Ahmed’s Amazing “Invention”
When a fourteen-year-old Texas student brought a briefcase with clock components to school, alarmed educators at MacArthur High School called police, fearing the contraption was a hoax bomb. The story is still unfolding but while some accuse the school and the police of overreacting, many question the student’s motive. It seems that no one except Ahmed Mohamed, and possibly his family, knows why he brought what looks alarmingly like a briefcase bomb to school and why he wasn’t forthcoming when called on to answer law enforcement’s questions.
Ahmed told his science teacher that he “built a clock.” After looking at it, the teacher told Ahmed to keep it in his backpack. But he didn’t. As the day progressed, Ahmed took it to all his classes; when it started beeping in English class, the teacher alerted administration.
After Ahmed Mohamed was arrested (and quickly released) and suspended from school for three days, media outlets and individuals, including various leftist elites, claimed Ahmed was targeted by school officials and law enforcement because he is a Muslim. He was hailed as a “boy genius” and a young inventor. Yet, as it turns out, Ahmed neither invented nor built a clock, nor anything else. He took a vintage Radio Shack digital clock out of its original case and transferred the components into a small briefcase.
Before there was time to determine the facts of the case, a support campaign called #StandWithAhmed was launched on social media. President Obama invited Ahmed to the White House before photos of the so-called invention were even released. The student was a last-minute attendee at Google’s Mountain View, California Science Fair that celebrates outstanding students. Microsoft sent Ahmed a “box of tech goodies,” including a Surface Pro 3 tablet, a 3-D printer, and a Band fitness watch. The family has also received thousand of dollars in donations.
Mark Zuckerberg invited Ahmed to tour Facebook, the company he founded, saying, “The future belongs to people like Ahmed.”
An MIT professor invited Ahmed on a tour of that campus and of Harvard, saying, “You are the kind of student we want at places like MIT and Harvard.” Some wonder why Zuckerberg and the professor so greatly admire Ahmed when all he did was put an old clock in a new case.
Students who show promise should be encouraged and celebrated, but what Ahmed did is simply confusing. It is neither an academic nor a scientific feat to create a clock that was already a clock.
Reports are that school employees never believed it was a bomb, but thought it was a hoax bomb from the beginning. This rings true because otherwise they would have evacuated the school, something they did not do.
Most people have only seen briefcase bombs in movies. The case Ahmed chose, the circuit board, the digital display, the wires, and other components looked similar to movies’ portrayal of bombs. What the case did not contain was anything that looked like the “boom” component of a bomb, such as dynamite.
A reason that law enforcement might be concerned about Ahmed’s motives include that he reportedly told police that he put a cord around the carrying case to “make it look less suspicious.” This raises the question of whether the student intentionally made it look like a bomb and if he didn’t, why would he expect suspicion?
Some suggest this incident was a publicity stunt. Ahmed’s father, a Sudanese immigrant, often returns to his home country and has twice run for president of Sudan. He is a Muslim activist who in the past publicly debated an anti-Qur’an pastor.
Reasons that teachers and administrators may have become alarmed, having nothing to do with Ahmed’s Muslim heritage, include:
1. The faux invention resembled a suitcase bomb.
2. It is illegal to bring either a bomb or a hoax bomb to any school.
3. Area residents may be more vigilant about possible terrorism because Irving is located just 26 miles from Garland, Texas where, in May, heavily-armed ISIS sympathizers fired on police at a “draw Muhammad” contest.
The Mohamed family has removed their children from school and will send them elsewhere. They plan to take legal action against the school district. The family immediately invited support from the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy organization that some consider to be radical. A CAIR official is acting as the family’s media spokesperson.
Ahmed’s older sister Eyman said during an interview with a Daily Beast reporter that she was suspended during her first year of middle school for being associated with a bomb threat, but claims she was innocent. (9-17-15) School officials won’t release any information about the incident due to student privacy laws.
The high school possibly erred on the side of caution, but this was unlike other silly zero-tolerance blunders. While the initial reaction probably had nothing to do with the student’s religion, responses from outsiders had everything to do with it.
A lesson that might be learned from this fiasco is that even in this era of 24-hour news reporting and social media frenzies, there should sometimes be a pause for fact-finding before bandwagons are jumped on. The truth still matters.
Politicized reaction also informs observers of Ahmed’s tale. Some note that the U.S. president failed to even call the parents of Kate Steinle, a young woman fatally shot by an illegal immigrant while innocently walking with her father at a popular San Francisco tourist spot in August. President Obama has not invited to the White House any of the family of the four police officers murdered by blacks fired up by the Black Lives Matter movement’s sometimes incendiary rhetoric. Some are wondering why Ahmed was given a special invitation while the president failed to reach out to others who have suffered injustice or grief.
Even Bill Maher, the left-leaning host of Real Time, was appalled by those that criticized the school and law enforcement, saying, “So the teacher is supposed to see something that looks like a bomb and go, ‘Oh wait, this might just be my white privilege talking. I sure don’t want to be politically incorrect, so I’ll just let it go.’”
After all the uproar over a student being detained for bringing an item resembling a bomb to school, one can only hope that the next time a school needs to make a critical decision about calling law enforcement, they will still choose what is prudent to keep students safe. It is hoped the excess scrutiny won’t bully schools into favoring political correctness over prudence.
In 2009, the Gates Foundation promised $100 million dollars in grants to Hillsborough County Schools in Florida if they’d follow certain steps, including raising a pre-determined amount of money and agreeing to “[evaluate] teachers using specially trained peers and bumping their pay with the idea that it would boost student performance.” The Tampa-area district fulfilled its part of the bargain but Gates gave them $20 million less than agreed after the foundation decided “there was not enough of a connection between performance bonuses and greater student achievement.” The district is in crisis because of Gates’ decision and cost overruns for the Empowering Effective Teachers program. (Tampa Bay Times, 9-21-15)
Democratic socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of over 12,000 at Liberty University in Virginia in September. All presidential candidates were invited to the conservative Christian college founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. NPR reported that students “liked having someone who they don’t necessarily agree with come to their campus.” The school’s invitation and ensuing polite discourse stands in contrast to some liberal universities that refuse to invite anyone with an opposing viewpoint, where invitees are sometimes protested, and where debate can be less than civil. (National Public Radio, 9-14-15)
The Jersey City, N.J. School Board refused to close schools for the Muslim religious holiday Eid al-Adha after determining that the lead time of only one week wouldn’t allow parents time to make other arrangements for their children. The decision angered Muslim parents attending the contentious meeting that lasted four hours; one said, “We’re no longer the minority. We’re gonna be the majority soon.” (NBC, 9-24-15)
Book of the Month
The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth, and Lies, by Christopher H. Tienken and Donald C. Orlich, Rowan and Littlefield Education, 2013, $34
Christopher Tienken and Donald Orlich are professors of education at Seton Hall University and Washington State University, respectively. Their book is an analysis of school reform policy over the past six decades, focusing on how we ended up where we are today. They value public education and wish to see it flourish.
The authors demonstrate the harm done by older reforms and the more recent attempts, like No Child Left Behind, Common Core, national testing, and Race to the Top grants. The authors show that most “reform” policies aren’t based on “empirical evidence, but instead rest solidly on a foundation of ideology.”
The pending Congressional reauthorization of ESEA seems to be a continuation of the reformers’ schemes and offers little to no positive change.
Corporations and leftist elites that delve into education are ruining public schools and effectively creating a two-tiered system that is bad for America.
After eviscerating the various schemes that have failed, this book outlines the following points that should guide the future and that would help to separate reality from myth.
• “Rank and file educators,” teachers and principals, must use their influence to develop strategies to improve the system.
• Local control is critical.
• The nation must recognize that “lies about American education ‘lagging’ behind other countries . . . don’t stand up to empirical scrutiny.”
• Better test results don’t necessarily mean better-educated citizens, particularly because developing test-taking skills often kills creativity.
• Internationally, test-taking skill and systems of national standards don’t correlate with economic superiority among nations.
• “Innovation and creativity cannot be mandated from a state-controlled system.”
The authors sum up their arguments, saying, “It is illogical that the country with the best university system in the world can have a failing PK-12 system that needs to be placed under centralized curricular control.” They say that the Common Core standards and mandated testing scheme will result in a standardized curriculum.
They conclude, “Policies that now flow out of Democratic and Republican think tanks and policy conventions have inflicted deep wounds on what is considered by most free countries as the greatest education system on the planet.” In fact, the authors suggest, “It might be time to begin prosecuting people for education malpractice who pass legislation and implement reforms that are untested and without significant benefits to children.”
FOCUS: Left Behind: Critics Say Federal Education Fix Won’t Work
by William Patrick
Originally published on February 4, 2015 at Watchdog.org and Human Events. Reprinted with permission.
“No Child Left Behind has become unworkable,” Chairman for the Senate Education Committee Lamar Alexander admitted recently. Many very smart people in politics and education policy agree.
But Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, has no intention of giving up. And neither do all those smart Republicans and Democrats, teachers union leaders, education advocates, and parent and student group representatives who have recently been rearranging themselves in the most unusual alliances.
Because no matter how much evidence piles up on the left and the right that solving education problems in 50 states with hundreds of billions of dollars in federal tax money over the past 12 years hasn’t worked, no one with any stake in the matter is about to let go, no matter how many children are left behind.
The reasons are as complicated as the motivations of individuals and groups involved. And as simple as the fundamental rule of our federal government : Once created, a federal program and the amount of money spent on it can almost never be stopped.
The U.S. Constitution assigns no role in public education to the federal government. The policy that evolved into No Child Left Behind began with President Lyndon Johnson’s mid-1960s “War on Poverty,” with a 32-page law providing extra federal assistance for poor and disadvantaged children.
Since then, hundreds of additional programs and thousands of regulatory constraints have been heaped on the federal education initiative. Per pupil spending has more than tripled. More than half a trillion federal tax dollars have been allocated since No Child’s enactment in 2002.
And at no time have the dramatic increases in spending and regulation led to anything resembling a proportionate increase in student progress. Average student test scores in math, science, and reading are historically flat, according to the government’s National Center for Education Statistics. But that doesn’t seem to matter.
Getting rid of federal involvement is a tough sell. It threatens the interests of a welter of millions of individuals and groups benefiting from government largesse, including their political representatives.
Those politicians who are entrusted to hold education lobbyists and special interests accountable are, in fact, beholden to them.
Federal involvement is by now so ubiquitous that substantially withdrawing from K-12 education is politically unfathomable. Promising a fix is something politicians can get people to rally behind even if there’s clear evidence their proposals won’t deliver.
“Once created, politicians and lobbying groups have every incentive to ensure that those programs continue even if they’re not effective,” Courtney Collins told Watchdog.
Collins is the author of “Reading, Writing, and Regulations: A Survey of the Expanding Federal Role in Elementary and Secondary Education Policy,” a working paper published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. “One of the main problems,” she writes, “is that it’s politically advantageous to say you’re going to fix education.”
None of these interests is more politically powerful than the teachers unions. In the past two years, the two biggest unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, made a combined $36.9 million in political contributions and spent about $7.5 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The union army is staffed with an ever-growing number of public education employees — especially those who do not teach in the classroom.
According to a recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the number of non-teaching staff in the United States — aides, librarians, principals, district staff, guidance staff, support staff, etc. — now comprises one-half of the 6.2 million total public school employees.
Their salaries and benefits alone account for one out of every four education dollars. Put another way, more than double the percentage of those in South Korea and Finland, which consistently rank at the top of global education rankings.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of 34 democratic countries with market-based economies, the United States is second in the world in overall education spending, behind Switzerland.
In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, Americans paid $15,345 per pupil, dwarfing Mexico at $3,286 per pupil. The OECD average was $9,487.
Among OECD members, the U.S. ranks 17th in reading, 20th in science, and 27th in math.
“We spend more than any other country in the world and our results just don’t speak to that,” Michael Brickman, national policy director for Fordham told Watchdog.
“Unions always get a cut from more members,” Brickman said. “There is a voice for reform but it competes with powerful interests who want more spending for the sake of more spending.”
Harder still in the effort to effect real change is shadow boxing the moral imperative of something called No Child Left Behind. The U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) mission, “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access,” can mean anything anyone wants it to mean, says Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.
Ultimately, what the interested parties can agree on is that it means more money and is necessary to fix what Sen. Alexander readily admits is an unworkable program.
Over the life of No Child Left Behind, the DOE received roughly $850 billion, $35 billion more than the $815 billion the Department of Defense spent to fight the Iraq War, according to the National Priorities Project.
“The federal government isn’t capable of transforming an education system,” McCluskey said. “The problem is we’ve kept the same sort of system in place only we’ve made it worse.”
Not unlike Medicaid, states that would otherwise want control over their education systems are willing hostages to the “free” federal funding. Should state leaders want to break free, their critics label them enemies of education or of the poor. Worse, they’re fools for turning down billions that will simply be distributed among compliant states.
Resisting No Child Left Behind also meant states risked losing supplemental funding designated for schools and school districts with high percentages of poor students. It was the bait used to lure states into accepting even the most contentious regulations, McCluskey wrote in a policy analysis titled A Lesson in Waste.
“It wasn’t required to leave the lights on, but certainly school districts began to budget for it every year,” McCluskey told Watchdog.
To plug those gaps, states and local governments would’ve been forced to raise revenues, assuming they had the capacity to do so. Like so many programs, when the feds come calling it’s just easier to take the money, even if it doesn’t get results.
In the place of real reform, the heavy hitters in education are debating whether to eliminate standardized testing, the accountability backbone of No Child Left Behind.
The proliferation of intense, high-stakes tests — federal mandates now require states to administer 17 annual tests — and the subsequent parent and teacher revolt has the attention of the political class.
Sen. Alexander has proposed two options: keep the existing testing mandates in place while rolling back teacher accountability, or allow school districts and states to decide.
In other words, hold fast to the unworkable system or return to the flawed era that No Child Left Behind was supposed to fix.
The debate has yoked Republicans, who think the testing is federal overreach, to the teachers unions that believe student performance is too burdensome on their membership.
More confusing still are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — a 2016 GOP presidential candidate — and President Obama, arguing that measuring the performance of disadvantaged children is tantamount to guaranteeing their civil rights.
Collins said allowing a modicum of control to return to the states is a step in the right direction.
“There’s an economic argument for doing as much at the local level as possible,” she said, “because the people making those decisions are close enough to recognize the best fit for those specific classrooms.”
But don’t expect the idea of a centralized, one-size-fits-all approach to improve the educations of 50 million kids attending 100,000 public schools to die. Don’t expect common sense to prevail over power.
“We’ve got to get away from doing the same thing over and over again,” said McCluskey. “It’s the definition of insanity.”
WatchDog.org is a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity which is a non-profit organization that promotes a well-informed electorate and a more transparent government.
Editor’s note: Reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act is currently underway in Congress. Both Houses have passed bills that await reconciliation through a House and Senate conference committee. The outcome will likely further diminish parental control over education and continue the failed standards-testing-data collection model of No Child Left Behind and Common Core.