Rethinking Federal Intervention in K-12 Education

, Steven Koskulitz, Leave a comment

On November 8, the Heritage Foundation collaborated with the Pioneer Institute to host an event which focused on the impact that the federal government has had on K-12 education and possible alternatives to the federal intervention that we have seen thus far. Ted Rebarber and Neal McCluskey, co-authors of the new Pioneer Institute White Paper, Common Core, School Choice & Re-thinking Standards-Based Reform, believe that federal intervention in schools inhibits their success, preferring instead that certain federal mandates be eliminated and school choice policies be implemented. Brad Thomas, House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Dr. Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas, commented on the views of Rebarber and McCluskey.

Rebarber said, in his view, that Common Core resulted in “…the worst large-scale educational failure in 40 years.” He pointed out that after Common Core was fully implemented, test scores for the 8th grade math assessment offered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) and the math section of the ACT got worse. The United States was also doing poorly in math compared to other countries such as Singapore and South Korea. Rebarber argued that school choice could be a solution: “School choice is a fundamentally different approach that offers the possibility for innovation in curriculum, in implementing a more rigorous curriculum like we’ve seen in other countries…it at least opens up possibilities unlike the curriculum standards-based approach, which just calcified the sort of low expectations and some of the progressivist instructional dogmas that are already pretty dominant in the schools…” Private schools are not fool-proof though, as they can implement curriculums similar to those of public schools. Rebarber hopes that they will not imitate public schools in this way going forward. He suggests that when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is up for reauthorization in 2020, Congress should change it to let states decide if they will adopt the federal curriculum.

McCluskey said: “…choice enables all sorts of different ways of looking at the world, looking at education, and what we value to have equal status-to be on a level playing field and not be sort of dictated from ‘on high’ what everybody and everything should look like.” McCluskey believes that the federal government should not involve itself in the education systems of states; rather, the choices made about education should be “…as close to the people that the institutions are supposed to serve as you can get.” Ideally for him, “…the first type of program you would want at the state level is a tax credit with no testing requirement. The accountability comes from parents choosing and from donors choosing. The next best thing you could do is tax credits if you have to have some sort of testing requirement…” but “Let the schools choose the test.”

Thomas finds himself in the middle of the standardization versus school independence debate: “I take the authors’ points that standardization and choice are, on some level, competing poles, but I actually think they can be done in concert…I think there’s value in standards-based reform. I think there’s more work that needs to be done right-sizing the federal involvement in that and balancing the influence of standards-based reform on school choice policy, and I think we want to be a part of that where necessary and where we don’t create more problems than we solve.” Dr. Wolf learned “…that the most ubiquitous-and you could argue the most impactful-government organizations are schools-public schools. So I started studying schools and I started studying the governance of schools and that led me to school choice.”