Since taking office, President Obama has made seemingly dramatic reforms in education policy. First, he announced Race to the Top in July 2009, a new program in which the Department of Education would reward states $4.25 billion in grants for complying with a list of federal requirements. Next, he heeded the states’ pleas for relief from No Child Left Behind’s high benchmarks and harsh punishments by offering waivers, without Congressional authority, from the program’s draconian rules. Both of these policies included incentives for states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, a national curriculum that 45 states have consequently signed onto. Unfortunately, each of these policies either repeats the federal government’s past failures or introduces new ones that are sure to do damage.
Race to the Top throws more money at a broken education system. One of the greatest modern myths is that education is underfunded. To the contrary, education expenditures have increased by 150% over the past two decades while academic achievement has remained stagnantly low. What’s more, the U.S. spends more per pupil than other any nation, without the results to show for it. Race to the Top only throws more money at a fundamentally broken system without addressing its underlying problems of centralized control in Washington, D.C. and its one-size-fits-all approach to education. The federal government has offered reform incentives time and time again over the past three decades to little success. Unsurprisingly, meaningful education reform cannot be achieved by bureaucrats in Washington writing white papers.
Obama’s No Child Left Behind waivers come with strings attached. One would think that a waiver from a failed federal program should take away rules rather than add them. But, that’s not the case with NCLB waivers. Instead, states must accept a number of new requirements including adopting the Common Core national standards. Rather than empowering states with the freedom to tackle their school’s problems without federal hindrance, Obama’s NCLB waivers only continues the trend of centralizing education that is hurting our children.
Common Core is expensive and takes control away from state educators in favor of federal bureaucrats. Common Core is expected to cost the states governments $15.8 billion to implement in the first seven years alone, at a time when the average price of educating a student is already over $10,000 every year. Worst of all, this money is wasted since the standards take a misguided approach to improving students’ academic achievement. Common Core aims to close the achievement gap between states ignoring that achievement gaps are wider within states than between them. Such schools in need of improvement may be better served by adopting curricula personalized to the needs of their students—flexibility not found in Common Core. But, under Common Core, states and local school districts’ hands will be tied in implementing standards not tailored to their local needs.