"How do Conservative principles impact the happiness and prosperity of all Americans?"
By Christel Swasey
A University of Utah exhibit recently displayed original letters, newspapers and books that had been written by colonial American freedom fighters such as Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin. On display also were original documents written by British loyalists.
Never before had I read both the freedom fighters' side of the argument and the other side's articulate point of view. A heated argument ran through the documents. It boiled down to this: either you stood for local freedom, or you stood for remaining a managed colony under England's non-representative system.
The arguments illustrated the conflict that exists between conservative principles-- government by the consent of the governed and local control-- versus opposing principles: rule assumed by the will of others, (such as rule by a king) or top-down, unrepresentative, distant control.
In retrospect, it feels obvious that the freedom fighters' side of the issue was right.
But during the debates of the 1770's it was not so clear. Both sides had reasoning that made some sense.
Similar, confusing battles about freedom go on in America today-- battles for local control, independence, and real representation. These battles continue because some Americans think --or hope-- that we live in a top-down kingdom, with the President like a Pharaoh ruling over the states. But our nation is a Constitutional Republic, ruled by laws and by a separation of powers into three branches, each of which is equal-- the Supreme Court, Congress, and the Executive Branch. There is a balance of roles for the states and the federal government to play. There is no Pharaoh.
Because I've been a teacher most of my life, my freedom-focus is on the ongoing battle for local educational freedom. This is a Constitutional right I wish to preserve. But it will not be, unless enough people: a) realize that we've recently given away that right, by adopting Common Core standards and tests, and: b) realize the strength of our position to reclaim our educational sovereignty, because of the Constitution.
The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution gives states the sole right to set education policy. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States…or to the people." States should never have given that power away to a federal agency nor to any out-of-state test writing consortia, regardless of any federal incentives, but many did.
An additional law, the General Educational Provisions Act (GEPA) states that the federal government is forbidden to “exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system…”
Yet the Common Core State Standards, which were incentivized and promoted by the Department of Education, lured Utah and many other states from their previously held educational autonomy.
How did Common Core take over? It slid under the public radar, wearing the sheep's clothing of a grant opportunity called Race to the Top (RTTT). When Utah applied for the lottery-styled RTTT grant, one condition the federal agency had set to improve a state's chances of winning was that states would agree to adopt Common Core. Although Utahns hadn't read it, the school board agreed to it without public vetting. The board wanted the funds and the deadline was short.
RTTT money went to a some states, but not to Utah. Still, states who applied had agreed to adopt Common Core regardless of the money. States adopting Common Core "sold their educational birthrights without even getting the mess of pottage," observed S.C. Senator Mike Fair.
But who noticed? With Common Core came loud promises of grandeur. Common Core claimed it would increase college readiness and would promote international competitiveness, and it was said to be "state-led"--without federal strings attached. Sadly, the claims were the opposite of what Common Core would actually do.
Along with questions of the Common Core harming quality education, creating huge data privacy invasions and gouging taxpayers, the bigger issue, which newspapers seemed to miss, was an irreparable concern --beyond the educational standards themselves. It was the principle of local control; educational free agency. Standards and tests would no longer be set by states.
Nationwide, debate about Common Core asks: Is student-centered or teacher-directed learning more effective; is cursive important; is common core math an increase in rigor or a dumbing down?
Calling the Common Core an improvement seems unreasonable, since its deletes cursive, minimizes narrative writing, eliminates a majority of classic literature and stunts math teaching. But even if the Common Core standards were actually good, the debaters miss a much bigger picture: they have given up local control over changing the standards; have given up the right to meaningfully argue about standards anymore.
Common Core standards are tightly controlled. First, they are under copyright by the CCCSSO/NGA, groups which claim to be the "sole developers"; second, there is no amendment process, thus no way citizens can vote out those who write the standards; and last, the federal government has put an additional 15% cap on top of the copyright, so no state may add anything to the standards.
But the standards don't need federal police enforcement or the 15% cap; the tests themselves will motivate compliance. Teachers, prodded by the knowledge that their jobs are at stake if students test poorly on the tests, will naturally teach only the Common Core standards and will use the model curriculum being created by the federally funded test writers.
Where's the freedom in that? Where's the local control?
Common Core proponents say, "We can exit Common Core anytime we like." That's like a 1770's colonist saying, "We can toss tea into the ocean any time," while deliberately investing their personal fortunes and their children's apprenticeships in British tea.
It is true that states may withdraw from Common Core, but it is unlikely to happen. The public has been led --by falsehood-- to believe that the standards are good for our children, and the public has been denied a truthful taxpayers' cost analysis of the implementation price tag of Common Core.
Now, with every Common Core textbook we purchase, with every Common Core teacher development seminar we fund, with every day that brings us closer to the Common Core national tests of 2014, we incrementally give up the likelihood that we will ever again govern education locally. The academic and financial costs are inestimable.
The Department of Education is poised to encroach further. After providing funds to make longitudinal database systems for all states to be interoperable with other states' agencies, the Department made sure its system (via the National Center for Educational Statistics model and via alterations to FERPA privacy regulations) would have access to personal, nonacademic student data and academic data without parental consent.
The Department has made sure it can view the state-collected student data via the Common tests. The Department signed "Cooperative Agreements" with consortia representatives which bound states to share testing ideas and results with other testing consortia, under the eye of the Department of Education.
One of America's strengths has long been its educated people; the world has flocked to American universities; we have had one of the most intellectually diverse education systems in the world. But an additional, painful cost to American freedom will be the loss of diversity and excellence to come soon to American universities. Common Core's rigid K-12 tests, and also the new college entrance tests, will force everyone, from preschool through college, to march to the same dreary tune: governmentally-capped standards and tests.
The new president of the U.S. College Board, David Coleman, who also led the writing of the ELA Common Core, is aligning college entrance exams (SAT) with Common Core. So universities, via the common tests, will necessarily cater to the Common Core, which will do them significant harm. (Remember, Common Core minimizes literature, deletes cursive, reverts Algebra II from 8th to 9th grade, and reverts Calculus from high school to college level. --Among other damages.)
What can be done?
South Carolina, Indiana and Missouri have written legislation to withdraw their states from Common Core. If Utah does not follow suit, and declare independence from Common Core, the state will be increasingly managed as an educational colony under federal and CCSSO/NGA rules, with no say in testing, standards or over the privacy of students. Our founding fathers gave states the responsibility to educate in our Constitutional Republic. Unless we remember and use this privilege, it's gone.
Thomas Paine described the 1776 opportunity to depart from England's rule: "like a name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak, the wound would enlarge with the tree, and posterity read in it full grown characters."
Our current opportunity to declare independence by withdrawing from a national Common Core is just as real.