Which will it be? Federal control of education or school choice and parental involvenment

September 9, 2012

A few days ago on Tuesday, September 4, a vast majority of American students have returned back to school to begin a new school year, even as a major city, Chicago, is on the verge of a teacher strike.

In reflecting upon the start of the school year, The Heritage Foundation posted a timely article by Amy Payne in its Morning Bell presentation for Tuesday, September 4th: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of a New School Year”. blog.heritage.org/2012/09/04/morning-bell-the-good-the-bad-and-the-…

The Good: Support for school choice is at an all-time high; Social promotion is becoming less popular; Online, customized learning is on the rise; and teachers union membership is declining.

The Bad: The Administration is singling out minority students for government “help” instead of raising them up through increased options.

The Ugly: Average per-pupil spending in public schools is reaching historic highs. 

What lies ahead for education in future years?

Government-imposed standards nationwide

There have been successes in the past year with more individualized learning and school choice.  But beware of government-imposed standards imposed on school districts nationwide.

It was back in December of 2011, when The Heritage Foundation published an article by Lindsey Burke, A National Education Standards Exit Strategy for States, which alerted the public to the push by the Obama Administration for Common Core State Standard Initiatives.   www.corestandards.org/the-standards

In an excerpt from Lindsey Burke’s article:

“The push for centralized control over what every child should learn has never had more momentum.  The Obama Administration has pressured states to adopt the Common Core State Standards Initiative, conditioning more than $4 billion in ‘Race to the Top’ grants on its adoption.  The Administration’s blueprint for the rewrite of ‘No Child Left Behind’ also called for Title 1 dollars to be contingent on states’ adoption of the nationalized standards.”  www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/12/a-national-education-stan…

Another warning was issued in April of this year, also by Lindsey Burke, who deals with curriculum development as the Will Skillman Fellow in Education in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at The Heritage Foundation: “States Must Reject National Education Standards [Common Core] While There Is Still Time.”   http://www.heritage.org/research/resports/2012/04/states-must-rejec

The following excerpt from Burke’s article is especially telling:

“The push to nationalize the content of what is taught in every local public school across American is riddled with problems.  First and foremost, the constitutional authority for education rests with states and localities, not the federal government.  National standards and tests are unlikely to increase academic achievement, will not fix the fundamental misalignment of power and incentives that defines education today, will lead to the standardization of mediocrity, will create significant new expenses for states, and will significantly grow the federal in education.”

Common Core standards, flavor of the day

All but 5 states have agreed to adopt the Common core national standards, including Illinois.  States so far not signing up to embrace CCSS are Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia.   www.corestandards.org/in-the-states

Illinois didn’t waste time in signing on to the federal Common Core State Standards Initiatives and did so on June 24, 2010 with the full support and blessing of the IEA.      http://www.corestandards.org

What is in store for schools in Illinois under the CCSS Initiatives are laid out herein:  “The New Illinois Learning Standards Incorporating the Common Core.”   www.isbe.net/common_core/default.htm

The target date for the implementation of the Common Core assessment program throughout the state of Illinois is set for the 2014-2015 school year.  Most school districts have adopted CCSS.

More tax dollars for education funding

Not only is Obama convinced that his push for national standards will lift this nation’s dismal 26th world-wide rank in student achievement, but, like in so many other areas of government, Obama is convinced that spending more federal tax dollars on education funding will lead to enhanced learning experiences for students.

President Obama’s DOE budget proposal for FY’13 requests $69.8 billion in discretionary spending, a $1.7 billion increase over last year’s funding level.  It’s definitely an Education Budget Buster.  Five billion of this federal funding is to provide additional teachers compensation.  http://blog.heritage.org/2012/04/02/president-obamas-education-budg…

If able to deliver the money, Obama’s unconditional support of teacher unions will be assured, as well as state officials who can’t say no to their demands (at the risk of their jobs).

Is President Obama really justified in making education an issue by his criticism of the Romney/Ryan education proposal?

Obama’s 2013 Education Budget and Blueprint

a lengthy article by Lindsey Burke and Rachel Sheffield published on April 12, 2012 at  The Heritage Foundation, Obama’s 2013 Education Budget and  Blueprint: A Costly Expansion of Federal Control, these conclusions were made (Reading the entire article is well worth your time.):  http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/04/obamas-2013-educat…

1.  “At a time when American taxpayers are calling for fiscal restraint in Washington, the Obama Administration’s 2013 education budget request and blueprint create a path to continued federal profligacy and more federal control of education.

2.  President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request increases the Department of Education’s discretionary budget to $69.8 billion — a 2.5 percent increase over 2012 — the largest increase of any domestic agency.

3.  In addition to the proposed spending increases, the Administration is also proposing to spend an additional $60 billion on new education programs.

4. If President Obama’s education blueprint is enacted, he will have spend nearly as much on education in this first term as President George W. Bush spent in two terms, despite the fact that Bush nearly doubled the Department of Education’s budget during his tenure.

5.  Rather than continuing to increase federal education spending, Washington should dramatically reduce its role in education — a role for state and local policymakers.”

Romney/Ryan Education Plan Proposal

As released on May 23 of this year, the latter is exactly what the Romney/Ryan education plan proposes to do    Lindsey Burke’s published Heritage Foundation critique of  Romney’s education agenda, Romney’s Education Agenda with a Few Edits, It could Be Great, can be read at http://www.nationalreview.com/cvorner/300880/romney-s-education-age….

As related by Lindsey Burke:  “It goes big on school choice and parental empowerment and calls for increased transparency of results.  Along the way, it admonishes education unions–and rightly so — for standing in the way of reform.” . . . . “Digital learning options must not be prohibited.  And charter schools and similar education choices must be scaled up to meet student demand.”

Lindsey Burke did emphasizes that it isn’t enough that Romney’s proposals seeks to reform No Child Left Behind.  Programs– such as Common Core —  that place mandates on states to adopt federal educational programs have failed in the past to improve academic outcomes and have left states with nothing more than reams of red tape.

As stated by Lindsey Burke, “Overall the Romney/Ryan plan is choice-driven and tilts heavily in favor of empowering parents.  In contrast, President Obama’s “blueprint” for Federal education would concentrate more control at the U.S. Department of Education and put the desires of special-interest groups ahead of the needs of families.” . . . “The NEA alone contributes more to political campaigns that Goldman Sachs, Wal-mart and ExxonMobil combined.”

Continual review process a must

The development and use of consensus standards is well established in industry, less so in science and academics. It is important to avoid undue influence of special interests, especially those with political motivations. There needs to be a continual review process available to parents and concerned citizens, not just “educational professionals” based in Washington DC or politicians. In parallel with standards for content, there must be standards for performance, not just of students, but the educators themselves.

Education performance review is vigorously resisted by education unions, and occasionally abused by school administrators for personal or political reasons. There has been too much “flavor of the year” influence from Washington in the past. New is not always better, especially if change is used to confound performance measurement.

Vouchers and performance-based rewards for teachers do work

How do we get the best education for our children? One of the best ways is to introduce competition to the process, and not blindly grant monopoly status to the public school system. A voucher system, advocated by Governor Romney is arguably one of the best ways to achieve this goal. Parents should be free to select alternative schools, including parochial and charter schools, based on the quality and content of education, rather geography. If a school is not meeting your needs, or is not responsive to your complaints, you can vote with your feet and checkbook.

Another is to assign and reward teachers based on performance, rather than seniority. At present, any teacher with the minimum necessary qualifications can “bump” another teacher, based solely on seniority.

Again, this is one of the most jealously guarded tenets of teachers’ unions. The best way (only way) for a teacher to increase their salary is by obtaining an advanced degree. Unfortunately, these degrees are usually in school administration (for non-administrators), rather than in core competencies of the subjects they teach.

In private industry, you can’t deduct educational expenses for tax purposes if they are undertaken to get a better job, rather than to improve your present skills, and your pay increases only if you are actually promoted. To unions (and school systems) a math teacher is a math teacher. In the real world, it takes special skills to teach statistics and modeling (among the topics in the proposed standards).

Finally, we must not neglect standards, facilities and educators for the vocations. There is a practical side to technology which is being largely ignored in the emphasis on college degrees. More significantly, there are good paying jobs going unfilled for lack of qualified applicants.

Closing thoughts

In conclusion, education must achieve measurable results, to the advantage of public and private enterprise. Only that way will our nation flourish. That’s the difference between investment and spending.

A video played on the opening night of the Democratic Convention revealed the true mindset of the Democratic Party.  It stated: “Government is the only thing we all belong to.”  This is like saying we are subjects of a monarch, or worse that we are enslaved.

Mitt Romney countered by saying, “We don’t belong to government, the government belongs to us.”  http://www.examiner.com/article/this-is-what-democrats-believe

Surely the American people desire freedom of choice and will choose in November liberty over government control in all aspects of their lives, from education to the cars they drive.  Not to do so will subject them to the whims of government, which is far too big to succeed in any stated goals.

Part 1:  Will education be used as a wedge issue against Romney/Ryan team at DNC –  Nancy Thorner and Ed Ingold    http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2012/09/part-1-wil…

Part 2:  Education spending and educational achievement are at odds  –   Nancy Thorner and Ed Ingold
http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2012/09/education-…
Part 3:  Which will it be?  Government control of education or school choice and parental empowermenthttp://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2012/09/part-3-whi…

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