The Right Opinion

Obama Pushing Federal Control of Public Schools

How the president and his radical cohorts are coercing states to cede authority to Washington.

By Arnold Ahlert · Dec. 10, 2012

The effort to turn public school classrooms into laboratories for government propaganda has reached a new milestone. Common Core State Standards in English is a program already adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. It calls for an increase in the reading of “informational text” instead of fictional literature. When the new standards are fully implemented in 2014, nonfiction texts will comprise 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, with a required increase to 70 percent by grade 12. Thus, timeless literature such as Of Mice and Men, or Catcher in the Rye will be replaced by recommended nonfiction works such as “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” or “Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency.”

Proponents of Common Core, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, claim U.S. students have grown used to easy reading assignments that leave them unprepared to comprehend complex nonfiction. This leaves too many students unprepared for the rigors of college and the demands of the workplace, experts say. And while some of the recommended texts are legitimate, such as Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” those mentioned in the first paragraph, or a New Yorker essay titled “The Cost Conundrum,” which would give students the impression that the Affordable Healthcare Act is good policy, are little more than thinly-veiled efforts to promote a progressive agenda masquerading as education.

Jamie Highfill, an eighth-grade English teacher at Woodland Junior High School in Fayetteville, AK reveals some of the “unintended consequences” of the rollout. “I’m struggling with this, and my students are struggling,” said the Arkansas 2011 middle school teacher of the year. “With informational text, there isn’t that human connection that you get with literature. And the kids are shutting down. They’re getting bored. I’m seeing more behavior problems in my classroom than I’ve ever seen,” she added.

David Coleman, the chief architect of the Common Core, who led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said educators are overreacting as the standards move from concept to classroom. “There’s a disproportionate amount of anxiety,” he contended.

There ought to be, but not just for the concerns expressed by teachers such as Ms. Highfill. As National Review’s Stanley Kurtz explains, there is a good reason why control over public schools was kept out of federal hands by the Founding Fathers. They realized that one political party or ideology shaping the curriculum in public schools was a direct route to tyranny. What the Obama administration has done has conditioned Department of Education funding and regulatory waivers on state acceptance of Common Core. That such a move is constitutionally suspect at best, and another naked power grab at worst, should infuriate Americans who still believe an education is about teaching children how to think, not what to think. (Furthermore, considering the reality that this is being sold as an alternative to “easy reading assignments,” they should ask themselves how and why the public school curriculum was dumbed-down in the first place).

Accuracy in Media’s (AIM) Mary Grabar reveals how 48 state governors were lured into entering a contest called “Race to the Top” for a portion of $4.35 billion of funds made available by the stimulus package. “It was one of the many ‘crises’ exploited by the Obama administration,” she writes. “While the public was focused on a series of radical moves coming in rapid-fire succession, like the health care bill and proposed trials and imprisonment of 9/11 terrorists on domestic soil, governors, worried about keeping school doors open, signed on.”

Far more importantly, she reveals the players involved. The educational component of Common Core is controlled by Linda Darling-Hammond, a radical left-wing educator and close colleague of William Ayers, former member of the domestic terrorist group the Weather Underground, who became a professor of education – and a friend of Barack Obama’s. Both Darling-Hammond and Ayers have advocated ending funding disparities between urban and suburban schools, ending standardized testing, and attacking “white privilege.” The big picture here is to eliminate objective measurement of knowledge and skills, and replace them with teachers offering up subjective appraisals of students' attitudes and behavior.

In a 2009 article for the Harvard Educational Review, Darling-Hammond extolled these initiatives as the Obama administration’s “opportunity to transform our nation’s schools.” Grabar reveals what such “transformation” is intended to achieve. “When these dangerous initiatives are implemented, there will be no escaping bad schools and a radical curriculum by moving to a good suburb, or by home schooling, or by enrolling your children in private schools,” she warns.

Some state governors have wised up. Virginia opted out when Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell was elected. Georgia, Indiana, Utah, South Carolina, and others have also begun, or completed, the effort to do the same. Last February, Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley explained her rationale for doing so. “Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the Federal government,” she wrote in a letter to a state lawmaker, “neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states." U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan characterized Haley’s fear of losing control as "a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy.” Yet when Utah dumped the program, Duncan was far more conciliatory. “States have the sole right to set learning standards” he wrote in a letter.

Legally they do, but the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) application says exactly the opposite, noting that any applicant is required to adopt “a set of content standards…that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium.” In other words, any states that wish to compete for RTTT school funding must embrace Common Core. Thus, a portion of federal funding for schools is nothing less than an effort to coerce the states into adopting a de facto national educational system. In many instances, such coercion is hardly necessary: the public school system is dominated by progressive-supporting unions who contribute virtually all of their campaign dollars to Democrats. Thus, the progressive agenda is already welcomed in many public schools. The Common Core curriculum is nothing less than an effort to coordinate that agenda on a national level.

In 2009, Bill Ayers was one of three keynote speakers at a conference sponsored by the Renaissance Group. The other two speakers were Secretary of Education Duncan and U.S. Under Secretary of Education, Martha Kanter. The Renaissance Group is purportedly interested in finding ways to educate the “New American Student,” part of which deals with the alleged inability of white teachers to deal with the issues of poverty, diversity and multiculturalism that affect their students. While some Americans might contend that the emphasis on such obvious progressive talking points is overblown, they should still ask themselves why those in charge of overseeing the federal government’s education programs would associate with a terrorist thug whose contempt for American culture, tradition and history is well-documented.

Just before he was elected in 2008 President Obama told his followers, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” It would appear that he and his progressive minions intend to make good on that promise, state by state, school by school – and child by child.

Arnold Ahlert is a columnist for FrontPage Magazine.