Here Come the Federal Education Standards
But the advocates are in denial.


Neal McCluskey

That wasn’t an aberration. The CCSSI website kept the plea for federal dough, and it still says that the federal role in establishing national standards is, among other things, to provide “tiered incentives,” including “offering financial support,” to get states to adopt and implement the standards.

So let’s be honest: National standardizers want coercive federal power backing their “voluntary” effort. Which prompts the crucial question: Why not just be upfront about that?

For starters, because with federal power comes federal control, and few Americans want that. We cherish local authority over our communities’ schools, and correctly do not trust Washington to do much of anything right.

Then there’s the fact that centralized, government-controlled education almost always ends up dominated by politically powerful teachers and bureaucrats — people whose livelihoods depend upon the status quo. And they, like most of us, would much prefer not having their feet held to scorching fires. The result: standards that either are weak to begin with, or end up that way.

As the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a leading national-standards crusader, explained in a 2006 report, state standards are often very poor because they have been “turned over to K–12 interest groups.” This reality has put national-standards advocates like Fordham in a logically impossible situation: They know states won’t adopt or maintain high standards unless the feds force them to, but they also know that the same political forces that have crippled state efforts would doom federal control.

Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge what the evidence makes clear — that centralized government power is a root cause of poor performance, not a solution — it seems national standardizers have elected to stuff reality into their subconscious and plunge ahead. Which might explain how they can say with a straight face that federal coercion plays no part in their plans.

They might not be dissembling. They might just be in denial.

– Neal McCluskey is associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and author of the book Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education.