In Saturday’s WaPo Secretary Spellings lays out a longer discussion of how last week’s reports don’t have her on the national standards or testing bus yet. She makes two key points explicitly and one implicitly.
First, [national standards/testing] goes against more than two centuries of American educational tradition. Under the Constitution, states and localities have the primary leadership role in public education. They design the curriculum and pay 90 percent of the bills. Neighborhood schools deserve neighborhood leadership, not dictates from bureaucrats thousands of miles away.
Second, the debate over national standards would become an exercise in lowest-common-denominator politics. We’ve seen it before, most recently during the divisive fight over national history standards in the 1990s.
The first point is thin gruel everywhere except the Republican primaries. Standing on the local control tradition is simply an appeal to ideology rather than progress and that tradition, and the high variance system it’s produced today, is hardly worth defending just for its own sake.
The second point, however, is compelling and why I think that the bottom-up approach to national standards is the only way to make them meaningful and avoid some train wrecks. As Rick Hess has noted in an article worth your time to check out, there is a natural expansionism in educational standards decision-making that, as the Secretary notes, would come into play here. But, there are some obvious things that the feds could be doing to help foster bottom-up collaboration that they’re not. Namely they could use incentives to encourage interstate cooperation through the allocation of parts of NCLB’s funding.
Her implicit point? It’s inside baseball but it’s that Mike Petrilli is a pain in the ass for them. He’s really put this issue back on the agenda and is working it hard but she’s right that it’s still a “Beltway” issue.