A(nother) federal takeover of Texas schools?

The Austin American Statesman and the Dallas Morning News are reporting complaints from State Education Commissioner Robert Scott that the Obama administration is plotting a federal takeover of public schools. Oddly enough, Rick Perry made a similar statement about the same time.

Scott’s beef with the feds has to do with a $4 billion federal grant program called Race to the TopMichael Petrilli, formerly an education official in the Bush administration and currently Vice President at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, correctly points out that this is not “coercion” as Scott claims; it’s bribery.
Texas is at a disadvantage in the competition for these funds because Texas rejects federal standards. Texas and Alaska are the only two states not participating in developing a national curriculum for certain core subjects.  Here’s the dilemma: Would we really want the federal government allocating money without standards?

One of the ironies here is that Republicans are suddenly leading the charge against federal standards in education. It wasn’t that long ago that George W. Bush was leading the charge the other direction. President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law emphasized “accountability” and established goals for the nation’s schools.  (To be fair, NCLB was a bi-partisan effort and others share the blame)  “Accountability” was all the rage just a few years ago. In fact, the Department of Education under Bush was looking for a way to bring accountability to higher education (and it appears the Obama administration may be foolish enough to continue that).

Again, accountability isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Taxpayers want to know what they’re getting for their tax dollars and state legislators want some kind of measure of success as they allocate budgets. The problem is that the standards may be arbitrary (or counter-productive) and bringing standardized tests or similar measure to higher education creates bad measures that will turn into bad public policy.

What is very clear is that politics has taken over the education debate in Texas. The state is not going to work with the federal government during an election campaign–and campaigning never stops.

Texas’ schools have been a political football for years. Complaining about public schools is a crutch candidates of both parties have been relying on for decades. While both parties may talk about local control, neither seems ready to trust the teachers, principals, or local school boards who are closest to their local schools. Maybe the problem is the “take over” by both the state and federal government.

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