By Estelle Schumann
Education in the United States is a contentious subject on Capitol Hill, and everyone seems to think they know the precise solution to fix it, including the Federal Government. From placing limitations on online universities to issuing mandates, this administration has been very hands on with the education system.
In 2009, the Obama Administration and the United States Department of Education instituted Race to the Top. This $4.35 billion federal competition was created to pressure K-12 educational reforms at the state and local levels. Some argue that the competition required by the bill could actually harm schools’ ability to education, thus providing another example of how education policies are best left at the state level.
Race to the Top awarded points to states that satisfied certain educational policies. These points translated into federal grant money, and only the states with the most points were awarded money. States that refused to comply or only implemented the policies that best suited their students’ needs did not earn funding. Most of the policies revolved around matching national education standards and implementing performance-based standards for faculty.
Pressuring states to adopt national reforms neglects the real needs of students for the sake of further centralizing education. In a 2010 press release, Texas opposed Race to the Top, explaining that the program did not consider a state’s overall educational success. Instead, it only looked at how well the state adopted national curriculum standards. The more a state relies on federal standards, the less state experts on education can weigh in. Since no two states are alike in student and teacher demographics, there is no way to ensure that blanket national standards meet the educational needs of all states. Texas chose to continue abiding by and improving their own curriculum standards according to the widespread input they receive from education and business leaders within the state. Alaska, North Dakota, and Vermont made similar decisions, each opting out of applying for Race to the Top funding.
The program’s federal, “common core” standards were predicted to raise English standards in 37 states and math standards in 39 states. This neglects to address standards in the remaining states, though. A 2010 article about federal education standards notes that the educational standards in Massachusetts were already above those set by Race for the Top. Meeting federal guidelines required the state to downgrade their curriculum. Thus illustrating how federalizing education can actually hold students to a lower standard.
The number of educational alternatives available today do complicate the matter. In addition to traditional public schools, charter schools and online K-12 schools are increasing in popularity. Some argue that federal standards regulating charter and online schools are necessary to guarantee student success. Yet many states have already begun regulating these new educational alternatives. States can implement laws governing charter schools within their borders. Since these schools receive public funding by accepting charter students, they must meet certain state curriculum standards. Online schools may rest outside of an individual state’s borders, but states can choose which ones receive public students and public funding from their own state. For example, Colorado’s standards for online schools were changed for that purpose, according to a 2012 news article. Online schools whose quality falls short of the state’s standards will not receive funding from the state for public students.
Individual states should be responsible for regulating their own education policies. Federal standards may seem convenient, but they fail to ensure the highest quality of education for each student. This becomes apparent upon a careful examination of Obama’s Race to the Top program. Instead of relying on national common core standards, schools should work with parents and educators on local and state levels to thoroughly address the needs of students.
© Estelle Schumann