J. Michael Smith, Esq.
Michael P. Farris, Esq.
Is Congress Moving Toward Nationalized Standards?
May 11, 2009
On Wednesday, April 29, the U.S. House of Representative’s Education and Labor Committee held the 111th Congress’s first hearing on the potential reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as the No Child Left Behind Act). Entitled “Strengthening America’s Competitiveness through Common Academic Standards,” the hearing could foreshadow a serious threat to the freedom of homeschoolers nationwide and America’s constitutional tradition of limited government.
While not connected with any bill yet proposed in Congress, the U.S. representatives on the committee dedicated the hearing to the discussion of a plan to potentially eliminate virtually all state control over the education system, and centralize education in Washington, D.C. through nationalized standards, which would lead to nationalized curriculum tests, and textbooks.
The committee heard from various expert witnesses. Some, like Ken James, who is the commissioner of education for the Arkansas Department of Education, stressed that any plan should not be mandatory, or require the federal government to establish its own national standards: “First and foremost, this is a voluntary, state-led effort to establish a common core of standards across the states. Let me be clear, this is not an effort to establish federal standards,” said Mr. James.
Other expert witnesses, however, seemed to desire the federal government to be more involved in establishing academic standards, and possibly even testing and curricula. One witness, David Levin, who is the co-founder of KIPP Schools, made an ambiguous comment at the end of his testimony that left HSLDA wondering if he wanted Congress to regulate all education: “Before the Civil War, when talking about our country people would say, ‘The United States are .’ After, it became ‘The United States is .’ It is time that we do the same in education and adopt one set of common standards.”
Other witnesses called for “common national standards that are rigorous and relevant,” and urged Congress to take action.
In the face of these calls, HSLDA is closely monitoring Congress’s actions. If groups of states on their own want to establish common standards for public schools, that is one thing. HSLDA firmly believes that educational decisions should be left up to the states and local school boards, not Washington, D.C. However, we believe that any attempts by Congress to create nationalized standards, curriculum, or testing would be unconstitutional, and harmful to students and families. Homeschool families have demonstrated that parents, not bureaucrats in Washington, best know their children and what they need to learn.
Congressman Buck McKeon (CA), the ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee recognized this when he said during the hearing, “Some people in Washington seem to think that the federal government created the states to administer its far-reaching programs and policies. But that’s not the case. History tells us that the states created the federal government.”
Congressman Mark Souder (IN) also shared his concerns about calls for Congress to create national standards. He asked some of the witnesses, “By the way, how do homeschoolers fit into this? How do Christian schools fit into this? How do colleges fit into this?” His question was never answered.
Mr. Souder soundly called any plans for centralized top-down education “a straitjacket which will be politically manipulated,” which will be exploited by special interests, and which will not advance education, but rather “advance whatever the political agenda is of those who are in power.”
For the past several decades, America’s education system has become more centralized and more disconnected from parents and local control. This has weakened academic quality as the federal government’s grip on the education system grows tighter. Local control over education is always better than centralized federal control. We are extremely concerned by any calls for nationalized standards, especially since it is unclear what room would be left for educational freedom, or how homeschoolers will be affected.
HSLDA urges you to contact your representative, as well as the representatives on the House Education and Labor Committee, and tell them to oppose any calls for nationalized standards, testing, or curricula. You can find the contact information for your representative on HSLDA’s Legislative Toolbox. A list of members of the House Education and Labor Committee can be accessed here.