Sunday, July 26, 2009

Federal control expands despite the rules

The federal government is taking over public education. It has no legal authority to do this, but it’s doing it anyway. This is not change I believe in.

New national education Common Core Standards (CCS) were released in draft form in July, reportedly “prematurely.” Critics call these supposedly “international” benchmarks vague, fuzzy and inadequate, but the most critical questions about them actually have to do with the fact of their existence.

In theory, the CCS initiative was driven by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards will be followed by development of a national assessment and perhaps a national curriculum. President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have said they support this initiative.

I have questions for those who are pushing this initiative on an unsuspecting public:

  • Who are they? Who lurks there in the dark, behind the scenes, basketball shoes in one hand and a bully whip in the other?
  • How much will this initiative cost the taxpayer (who already pays ridiculous sums of money for an arrogant, secretive, ineffective, close-minded, top-heavy public-education bureaucracy)?
  • Under what authority does the U.S. Department of Education direct, supervise, or control “the curriculum program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system”?
    • (Hint: None, according to Congress.)
  • Where is the voter in this entire process?
    • (Hint: Nowhere, except as a means for more money.)

Since July 1, I’ve been asking questions of the U.S. Department of Education (DoE); the Washington State Governor’s Office; the Washington State Board of Education (SBE); the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI); the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA); the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO); and Achieve, Inc. (which is partnering with the NGA and CCSSO). Here’s what’s happened so far.

U.S. Department of Education:
From July 11-22, the DoE steadfastly refused to answer my emailed questions, repeatedly referring me to the NGA and CCSSO. I told them my questions had to do with DoE policy, but this had zero effect. I changed my tactic, calling the DoE directly. On July 25, I finally found a person willing to address my questions.

Besides the CCS initiative, I’m concerned about the DoE’s changing role. For example, Race to the Top is a competition for $4.35 billion in federal grants that President Obama and Sec. Duncan formally announced July 24. President Obama reportedly “wants states to use funds to ease limits on charter schools, tie teacher pay to student achievement and move for the first time toward common academic standards” (Shear & Anderson, 2009). He reportedly said in a July 23 Oval Office interview: “What we're saying here is, if you can't decide to change these practices, we're not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we're not going to send those dollars there.”

Sec. Duncan has reportedly threatened California with the loss of federal “stimulus” funds if it doesn’t tie teacher evaluations to student achievement (Felch & Song, 2009). What does this have to do with the CCS initiative? Answer: Nothing.

Do what we tell you, California was told, or you don’t get the money. Whose money is this? Ours. Whose vision is it? Good question. Federal “support” is looking more like coercion or blackmail. This behavior is inappropriate. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution says that “powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Public education, therefore, falls outside of federal authority.

Despite the Tenth Amendment, the Department of Education was created in 1980 to:

  1. increase equal access
  2. “supplement and complement” the efforts of states, schools, parents and students, and "encourage” community involvement
  3. improve education through research, evaluation and information sharing
  4. help coordinate federal programs, improve their management and efficiency, and increase their accountability to Congress, the public and the president.

From its inception, the DoE’s activities were deliberately limited – especially with respect to decision-making. The original act (Public Law 96-88) says “the establishment of the Department of Education shall not increase the authority of the Federal Government over education or diminish the responsibility for education which is reserved to the States and the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States.”

According to "20 USC Sec. 3403," the DoE is prohibited from “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.” The DoE acknowledges this, adding that “the establishment of schools and colleges, the development of curricula, the setting of requirements for enrollment and graduation -- these are responsibilities handled by the various states and communities, as well as by public and private organizations of all kinds, not by the U.S. Department of Education.”

All of this might as well be history, folks. The DoE’s 1980 budget of $14 billion skyrocketed to a 2009 budget of $140.5 billion. Its appetite for power has surpassed all intents and purposes. Its top official is a gunslinger, swaggering his way around the country. And I – the most critical stakeholder in my child’s education – can’t even get a few simple questions answered.

State Governor’s Office:
On July 1, I emailed the Washington State governor’s office, asking for pertinent documentation on the CCS initiative. The legal affairs coordinator replied, sending me a heavily redacted document and a May 20 letter from the State Board of Education that had encouraged the governor to participate. One pertinent document was exempted from my request, due to “Executive Privilege.”

On July 11, I sent follow-up questions and a request for the exempted document. I received that document and was directed to Senior Policy Advisor Judy Hartmann for answers to my questions. I’ve twice requested a telephone appointment with Ms. Hartmann, but so far have been unsuccessful.

The exempted document is a confidential Decision Brief from Ms. Hartmann, having to do with a Memorandum of Agreement on the CCS initiative. The Brief indicates that by May 15, our governor had already decided to participate. (Therefore, the SBE’s May 20 letter, encouraging the governor to sign the MOA, was dated at least five days after her decision.) But the most interesting part about the Decision Brief is this:

Federal standards adoption. While the standards are being developed by states, CCSSO/NGA believe federal money – Race To The Top - to support this work is appropriate as well as taking the next step to developing common assessments. Discussion: The MOA does not address the possibility of federal adoption of the standards. As you know, some in Congress are looking at this issue.
Race To The Top funds. There is the possibility that one of the criteria for participation in Race To The Top funds will be participating in the Common Standards project.”
(At that point, with federal adoption of the standards and federal money contingent on participation in the CCS initiative, they might as well stuff "20 USC Sec. 3403" in the shredder. )

All states need to do is say no to this siren call. On July 24, our governor met with President Obama and Sec. Duncan in Washington, DC. At home the next day, the governor reportedly said that for a chance to “win” Race to the Top money, legislators “may need to talk about teacher evaluation, teacher pay and what the state is doing for struggling schools that are not getting better.”

State Board of Education:
The minutes from the May 14-15 meeting of the Washington State Board of Education note the board members’ decision to send the governor a supportive letter about the CCS initiative, but the agenda for that meeting didn’t mention their intent to discuss it. Therefore, the public wouldn’t have known.

I asked the SBE executive assistant to tell me which came first – the governor’s decision or the SBE’s May 20 letter. She would say only that the letter was “in support of” the governor’s decision. She eventually referred me and my questions to the governor and OSPI’s public disclosure officer (PDO).

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction:
OSPI’s PDO, a polite and helpful person, says OSPI will provide me with pertinent documents a month from now, during the last half of August. My questions were referred to Superintendent Randy Dorn. I haven’t heard from him, but on July 14, I was notified that Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke would respond in 7-14 days.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices:
Council of Chief State School Officers:
Achieve, Inc.:
I sent emails to these three organizations July 11 and July 20. The NGA and the CCSSO haven’t responded. After the July 20 email, Achieve referred me to the CCSSO.

To recap:

The DoE refused my questions. I persisted until someone agreed to answer them.
The governor’s office sent me documents but hasn’t answered my questions.
The SBE sent me documents, then referred my questions elsewhere.
OSPI will send me documents late in August, but has yet to answer questions.
The NGA and CCSSO haven’t acknowledged my existence, much less answered questions.
Achieve, Inc. declined to answer questions, referring me elsewhere.
Welcome to your new paradigm, folks. Parents are not the “stakeholders” that matter to these bureaucrats. They behave as if we don’t know anything and have nothing to contribute. They seem to think we should sit down, shut up and stop bothering the true professionals. We are not supposed to take notice of their obvious disregard for inconvenient laws and policies.
This message is coming through loud and clear, and I reject it completely.

The questions I’m asking are reasonable and not difficult. The tactics illustrated thus far allow a deeply flawed process to move forward until it appears to have enough momentum where it can’t be stopped. But it can be stopped if we speak up, ask the hard questions, refuse to be diverted, stand tall in defense of the Constitution and the laws and policies of the land, demand that government agencies stay in their proper lane, fight for our children’s education, and refuse to give the government an open checkbook for poorly defined programs.

Yes, we can.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (July, 2009). "Federal control expands despite the rules." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was published July 28, 2009, at at

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