This reader comments on earlier posts about why some liberals dislike Common Core, even though they find allies with whom they disagree on other issues. Arne Duncan has tried to create a narrative in which only the Tea Party is opposed to Common Core, but he neglects to mention that leaders of major corporate interests, plus Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee– support the Common Core. Reasons for favoring or opposing it are far more complex than Duncan acknowledges.
I have continuously run into progressive minded people who fear opposing Common Core because the Tea Party opposes Common Core. The fact that the Tea Party opposes Common Core is not a reason for a progressive/left/liberal to shy away from opposing it too. When the first stirrings of Tea Party sentiment occurred, I thought the movement could go left or right because there was something in the original protest that could have easily been embraced by the left – opposition to the Iraq war, opposition to the NSA type of surveillance already underway, opposition to an irrational tax code that favored the wealthy. But the movement was bought off by rightwing money, and rather quickly it ceased having genuine grass roots.
I too have no sympathy for the Tea Party, and I too favor the role of the federal government in regulating markets, providing for the health and safety of the citizenry, ensuring the protection of our common public spaces and enterprises, building national infrastructure, ensuring that our states remain fundamentally “united” by laws and values, and so on. But I also oppose the federal government when it abuses its power, or arrogates more power to itself than is constitutionally proper, or steps into matters that are fundamentally local in nature. Deciding how the country should respond to the Ukraine crisis is a federal matter. Deciding how and what teachers should teach in their local public schools is a local matter. Education policy is for school committees, local district and building administrators, the educators themselves, and the local unions to which they may belong. State government too has a key role to play in ensuring proper and adequate financing, in requiring licensure, and even, to a degree that is properly limited, in holding districts accountable for educational outcomes. But the federal government oversteps its boundaries, both historically and from a policy perspective, when it intervenes to the degree it has in altering the education landscape.
I am no activist for states’ rights, but I do recognize that a constitutional balance does exist between federal and state roles. Marriage, like education, is historically a matter left to state authority, and it should remain there, provided the states act within federal constitutional mandates – such as the equal protection clause. For a federal court to strike down a state law prohibiting gay marriage is not a federal intrusion into state authority. It is our federal constitution at play. The education of our children is uniquely local among our many social institutions, starting with the iconic little red school house. Other than the ridiculous Vergara trial taking place in California right now, there are no real constitutional impairments that occur from local and state control of the institution. The federal government’s interest in having an educated citizenry, and perhaps even its interest in having a citizenry prepared for the challenges of the 21st century, can be accomplished without the massive intrusion that we are seeing now. Indeed, what is saddest about the federal role in education is that the true underlying interests that are represented by our federal DOE and our president (for whom, like you, I voted) are corporate interests, not citizen interests. And so, like the Tea Party with whom I would otherwise never be a bedfellow, I oppose vigorously the role the federal government is playing through overreaching and unwise and politically motivated laws like NCLB and RTTT. There is nothing “core” about the “Common Core,” and even worse there is nothing “common” about it (in the sense that the “common” is something that is shared, public and open). I fundamentally do not trust the federal government in governing education in fifty states and setting goals for education at the district, building or classroom level. I know the analogy is silly, but education right now feels like the Crimea of American public policy.