Because Arne Duncan, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, often engages his mouth before his brain, the case for abolishing the department may have just become stronger than ever.
By failing to restrain his end-zone celebration of the Republican-led Congress’ recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Mr. Duncan has exposed the deceit and dishonesty of a bipartisan Washington establishment that has imposed top-down controls on education a majority of Americans don’t want.
But wait: After working hard to nationalize education through the first seven years of the Obama presidency, why should the departing secretary of education be so pumped about ESSA, the successor to No Child Left Behind? After all, one of the act’s main sponsors, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has crowed about the new law short-circuiting a national school board, repealing Common Core and returning considerable control to local hands. Republican talking points about the glory of devolution dominated early news stories about the Every Student Succeeds Act, even in The New York Times.
No doubt Mr. Duncan and his lawyers studied the 1,061-page bill line by line, and they most assuredly knew more than most members of Congress about how it actually seals in federal control, rather than empowering local stewards of education. More cause for Mr. Duncan’s juvenile joy was pulling a fast one via a hushed collaboration between a powerful Obama Cabinet member and the Republican congressional leadership.
“We were intentionally quiet on the bill — they asked us specifically not to praise it — and to let it get through,” Mr. Duncan said in a December interview with Politico Pro, a journal popular with Washington insiders. “And so we went into radio silence and then talked about it after the fact. Our goal was to get this bill passed — intentionally silent on the many, many good aspects of the bill. We were strategically quiet on the good stuff.”
Mr. Duncan’s revelation may help explain why House Speaker Paul Ryan rushed the massive bill to a House vote only two days after releasing the text, ignoring the pleas made by hundreds of citizen groups for time to study and debate the complex measure.
Mr. Duncan gloated about causes the administration “promoted and proposed forever the core of our agenda from Day One” now being embedded for the first time in federal statutory law. No longer will it be necessary to dangle monetary or regulatory bribes in front of states to persuade them to adhere to Common Core curricular standards. Under ESSA, every state must adopt “college- and career-ready standards,” which means Common Core or whatever rebranded versions the national education ministry deems acceptable.
Mr. Duncan’s former communications chief, Peter Cunningham, writing in the Dec. 13 Education Post, chose to chide Mr. Alexander for expressing such pride in a law that “now mandates the very thing he rails against”: Common Core. But that raises another question: Did Mr. Alexander, who served as education secretary under Republican President George H.W. Bush, realize full well the great ESSA deception and participate in it? As a one-time presidential aspirant, Mr. Alexander avidly supported national education standards and tests (albeit supposedly “voluntary”) as part of Bush’s America 2000 program, and at other stages of his political career.
So what are parents and educators who believe in local control to make of supposed congressional allies who prove to be either dupes or fools and wind up perpetuating nationalization of K12 education?
Instead of despairing and just accepting everything handed down from the Every Student Succeeds Act for many years to come, they may want to redirect their energy and commitment in 2016 to electing a president and new members of Congress dedicated to abolishing the U.S. Education Department.
Started by President Jimmy Carter as a political payoff to the National Education Association teachers union, the department has done nothing to advance the level of intellectual achievement in America. Quite to the contrary, as Patchogue, N.Y. school Superintendent Michael Hynes pointed out in a New Year’s Eve letter to Newsday, the Education Department policymaking “has left a wake of children who have been tested to death and also degraded educators by reducing them to numbers.”
It is time to stop letting political hacks and blowhards in Washington control our kids’ futures and to restore authority and choice to parents, teachers and local communities.
• Robert Holland is a senior fellow for education policy with the Heartland Institute.