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Education accountability should be local issue

Special to SEGAZINE

By Sen. William Ligon

LigonPerhaps never before in American history has K-12 education experienced such a huge shift from local to federal educational control with less involvement of elected legislators. The Race to the Top (RTTT) grant process bypassed a fundamental principle of constitutional government, “the consent of the governed.”

This grant was developed entirely within the federal executive branch, without federal or state legislative review. Executive branch state officials unilaterally committed their states to implement the mandates of the RTTT grant, including the adoption of the Common Core standards, even though the standards were not yet written, the tests undeveloped, and the costs unknown.

In a nation of supposedly self-governing people, bypassing the legislative body violates the very foundation of this constitutional Republic. The legislative branch is the branch of government that reflects the will of the people. The consent of the governed is non-negotiable in a nation of free people.

Across the nation, people are realizing that they have been excluded from exercising one of their most treasured rights: the right to control the education of their children. Their voices, as well as those of local educators and school boards, have been muted by federal strings attached to grants for too long. However, this latest grant has taken the situation to a new level.

Nationwide, the vigorous objections to RTTT mandates include the questionable quality of unpiloted Common Core standards, the expensive testing component, the collection and sharing of personal information on students – approximately 400 data points, the unproven teacher-evaluation system, the increased taxation that will necessarily occur to pay for unfunded mandates, and the fact that the Common Core violates the spirit, if not the letter, of three federal laws that prohibit federal direction of curriculum.

Currently, the Common Core represents uniform, multi-state standards in mathematics and English language arts (ELA), and other top-down uniform standards are in the pipeline. Though the official talking points claim the effort was “state-led,” that point stretches credulity when the actual input from the states was minimal at best (and in the case of the legislatures, non-existent).

The funding for Common Core came largely from the Gates Foundation to two private trade associations (the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers) along with their affiliated group, Achieve, Inc., none having public accountability. In turn, these groups designated three main writers for math standards and three for the ELA standards (no one from Georgia). Of the development teams, a total of 135 people, it appears that only three were from Georgia. How anyone was actually chosen is still a mystery. So much for transparency, public accountability, and claims of a state-led effort. Otherwise, we would have full public records of the entire process.

The Georgia Senate Education and Youth Committee recently heard from education experts who warned of the dangers of the Common Core. Sandra Stotsky, perhaps the nation’s leading expert on ELA standards and a member of the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the ELA standards because of their deficiencies, which she called “empty-skill sets.” In addition, there is no evidence that replacing classic literature with nonfiction such as EPA regulations will produce better readers; in fact, all of the evidence is to the contrary.

The Common Core math standards are similarly deficient. James Milgram from Stanford University, the only mathematician on the Validation Committee, refused to sign off on them, concluding that students “educated” under Common Core math would be about two years behind their counterparts in other countries by 8th grade.

The claim that the Common Core is more “rigorous” than Georgia’s previous standards does not hold up well. Even the Fordham Institute, which was paid $1 million by the Gates Foundation to compare standards across the nation, gave Georgia’s former ELA standards and math standards the same overall rating as the Common Core’s. Yet, Georgia’s executive branch was willing to trade the state’s sovereignty over education to unaccountable Washington, D.C. bureaucrats and trade associations for a mere $400 million doled out over four years.

Grant terms require that Georgia cannot change or delete any standard, but can only add 15 percent to them. When state taxpayers pay over $13 billion in local and state taxes every year for K-12 education, how can their elected officials possibly concede their right to control educational standards?

Contrary to the conventional wisdom in Washington – that only DC elites are competent to manage our lives (and our children) – I believe what our Founders believed: that liberty is best preserved when control is exercised close to home. In no area is this truth more fundamental than the education of our children. As control over education has become increasingly centralized over the last 40 years, education has deteriorated. Are we to believe that the solution to this problem is even more centralization in Washington?

My bill to withdraw Georgia from Common Core, the aligned assessments, and the intrusive data tracking on students is part of the movement to reassert our constitutional autonomy over education. The prevailing sovereignty of the states in matters of K-12 education both reflects and promotes the commonsense competence of the people. To weaken that sovereignty will, over time, undermine self-rule and individual initiative as well as the education of our children.

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