Will Nationalizing Education Solve Our Problems?

Over the years, as the failures of local schools became evident, states took more active roles in ensuring that children received an adequate education. As the failures of states have become more prevalent over the last several decades, the federal government has now decided that they in fact have the answers.

In fact, just recently, the Obama Administration has made a renewed push towards federal involvement, promoting their “Common Core” standards for states. This approach has received a moderate level of support, finding a warm reception from even the National Governor’s Association. But according to the University of Arkansas’s own Sandra Stotsky, the governors may not have known exactly what they were asking for:

“[When] states signed on to common core standards, they did not realize…that they were transferring control of the school curriculum to the federal government.”

Well, what’s the problem with the federal government wanting to fix education anyway? I mean, they’re just trying to help.

I’m glad you asked. The Heritage Foundation has issued an outstanding new memo addressing many of the problems with nationalized education.

1. Federal involvement in education curricula is expressly prohibited by federal law.  Don’t believe me?  Take attorney Kent Talbert’s word for it:

As [Kent] points out in a February report, three federal laws prohibit “federal direction, control, or supervision of curricula, programs of instruction, and instructional materials…in the elementary and secondary school arena.” The Obama Administration’s actions to condition federal Race to the Top funding on a state’s adoption of Common Core standards, as well as the Administration’s recent move to condition No Child Left Behind waivers on a state’s adoption of the standards, runs afoul of these laws.

2. The cost of implementing the nationalized education standards is astronomical.  Some reports conservatively estimate the cost of implementing President Obama’s Common Core at $16 billion. For a country with a $15.96 trillion debt (and counting), this is certainly problematic.

3. National standards are disincentives for innovators.  Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute issued this warning:

…While the Common Core standards aim to have students take Algebra I in ninth grade, Massachusetts previously set a higher standard to have students take Algebra I in eighth grade. “So it’s really become for us a ‘race to the middle.’”

4. The federal government will screw this up.  They always find a way, don’t they?

5. There is something to be said for the age-old idea of federalism. If you told me federalism is dead, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you, but I’m not through grieving and the principles still hold true. States & localities—the only entities constitutionally authorized to govern education in this country—can serve their people best based on their people’s needs. One-size-fits-all solutions from Washington have never worked and they won’t work now. And if states and local governments fail to make the necessary improvements, citizens can ‘vote with their feet’ and go to another district. Citizens lose this freedom if Washington is issuing cookie-cutter standards.

Ultimately, school choice is the most freedom-friendly education policy. These programs not only give parents the ability to move their child to a better school, but also promote competition for higher quality education. They are the opposite of nationalized, cookie-cutter standards. They give families more control over their own destiny—and what could be more essential to freedom?