A new report compiled by several former Education Department insiders for the Pioneer Institute warns that the Obama administration is imposing a national school curriculum, even though the law doesn’t allow it, by making trades with districts seeking waivers from other program requirements.
“In three short years, the present administration has placed the nation on the road to a national curriculum,” said the authors of the reported called “The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers.”
“By leveraging funds through its Race to the Top fund and the Race to the Top Assessment Programs, the [Education] Department has accelerated the implementation of common standards in English language arts and mathematics and the development of common assessments based on those standards,” the authors said. “These standards and assessments will create content for state K-12 curriculum and instructional materials.
“The department has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do,” the report continued. “This tactic should not inoculate the department against the curriculum prohibitions imposed by Congress.”
The authors are Robert S. Eitel and Kent D. Talbert, with help from Williamson M. Evers.
Eitel is a founding member of Talbert & Eitel, an education law firm in Washington, and he advises clients on education-related legislation, regulations and cases. From 2006 to 2009 he was deputy general counsel of the U.S. Department of Education.
Talbert is co-founder of Talbert & Eitel, and provides legal services to colleges and universities, accrediting agencies and professional organizations. He was from 2006-2009 general counsel to the Education Department.
Evers is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and specializes in research on education issues. He was from 2007-2009 the U.S. assistant secretary of education for planning, evaluation and policy development. He also was a senior adviser to then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.
The Pioneer Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, privately funded research group that supports scholarship on Massachusetts public policy issues.
The authors said the federal agency is using “waiver conditions” for various requirements – “a power that Congress has not granted” – to set up the national standards.
“Given the intense desire of most states to escape the strict accountability requirements of the [Elementary and Secondary School Education Act], most states will agree to the department’s conditions in order to obtain waivers. By accepting the department’s conditions, these states will be bound indefinitely to the Common Core standards, [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers-SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium] assessments, and the curriculum and instructional modules that arise from those assessments,” the report said.
“As already evidenced by the eleven states that have already applied for waivers, most states will accept the Common Core standards and the PARCC-SBAC assessment consortia conditions. Once this consummation occurs, the department will not permit a state to walk away from that commitment without the state losing its coveted waivers.
“It is also highly doubtful that states will turn away from the Common Core standards and assessments after making the heavy investment that these initiatives require,” the report said.
“In the view of the authors, these efforts will necessarily result in a de facto national curriculum and instructional materials effectively supervised, directed, or controlled by the department.”
The authors suggest a multifaceted response to Obama’s agenda, including that Congress “should immediately pass legislation clarifying that the department cannot impose conditions on waivers requested by states under ESEA.”
Further, congressional committees should hold hearings on the Race to the Top and related programs “to ascertain the department’s compliance” with various requirements.
Congress also should determine whether it needs to strengthen the legal ban on federal involvement in elementary and secondary curriculum programs and members of Congress should have the Government Accountability Office review and identify faulty efforts, the report said.
The study comes from the Pioneeer Institute’s Center for School Reform, which tries to boost education options for parents and students and ensure accountability in public education.
The launch of ESEA in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson brought about huge advances in federal involvement in education, except that the Education Department generally followed the rules not to be involved in curriculum over the years.
In 2009, that changed.
“Actions taken by the Obama administration signal an important policy shift in the nation’s education policy, with the department placing the nation on the road to federal direction over elementary and secondary school curriculum and instruction,” the report warned.
Even though there were protections for local control of education, “at the direction of the present administration … the department has begun to slight these statutory constraints.”
The report said through its administrative authority, “The department has created a system of discretionary grants and waivers that herds state education authorities into accepting elementary and secondary school standards and assessments favored by the department … these standards and assessments will ultimately direct the course of elementary and secondary study … running the risk that states will become little more than administrative agents for a nationalized K-12 program.”
Obama’s administrators are moving that direction even though the law bans federal instrusion into any “direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institute, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials…”
The report details how common standards began as a voluntary effort on the part of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, simply defining what students should know in order to graduate from high school.
Then Obama had the Race to the Top grants require districts to adopt the Obama standards in exchange for participating.
The winners “adopted or indicated their intent to adopt” the standards, the report confirmed.
That raised concerns, with Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott telling Sen. John Cornyn, “I believe that the true intention of this effort is to establish one set of national education standards and national tests across the country. Originally sold to states as voluntary, states have now been told that participation in national standards and national testing would be required…”
Weeks later, the Education Department confirmed that, stating its assessment standards will be used “to meet the assessment requirements” in federal programs.
“Through the Race to the Top Assessment Program, the department displaces state assessment autonomy with new common assessments for all states in the consortia, directed and influenced by $362 million in federal funds and program requirements,” the report said.
Additionally, the Obama administration is using school requests for waivers from various requirements to leverage states into a long-term national system of curriculum, “notwithstanding the absence of legal authority.”
“Any state effort to untether from the conditions imposed by the department in exchange for having received an ESEA waiver will certainly result in the department revoking the waiver. Like the dazed traveler in the popular Eagles’ song ‘Hotel California’ states, they can check out any time they like, but then can never leave,” the report said.