Embrace of 'common standards' by Obama administration is first step to losing local control, Scott says.
By Kate Alexander | AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
December 03, 2009
Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said Wednesday that the Obama administration is marching toward a federal takeover of the nation's public schools — and Texas should fight it.
The first step, he said, is an effort to develop common math and English curriculum standards that is being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Participation in the ongoing common standards effort is part of the criteria for a $4 billion federal grant program called Race to the Top.
Texas and Alaska are the only states not participating in the common standards effort. Scott said Texas is already ahead of the other states in developing tough standards.
The U.S. Education Department appears to be "placing its desire for a federal takeover of public education above the interests of the 4.7 million schoolchildren in the state of Texas by setting two different starting lines — one for nearly every other state in the country and one for Texas," Scott wrote last week in a letter to the state's congressional delegation.
"Because Texas has chosen to preserve its sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools," said Scott, "the state is now placed at a serious disadvantage in competing for its share of (the grant money)."
That is coercion, Scott said in an interview Wednesday, adding that he could see future federal education dollars being tied to participation in the common standards.
Coercion, no; bribery, yes, said Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington.
"They are bribing states to participate. That is very different than mandating," said Petrilli, a former education official under President George W. Bush.
He said there has been no discussion of requiring states to participate to get future federal dollars.
"I can't foresee that happening. I don't think anybody would support making this mandatory," Petrilli said.
But the Race to the Top is a discretionary, competitive grant program, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made the common standards a key — though not defining — part of it.
"This is not money that is earmarked for Texas," Petrilli said.
Texas still has a chance to win as much as $700 million because the state has a pretty good school reform story to tell and is otherwise well aligned with the federal government's goals in this grant program, Petrilli said.
Scott's letter to the delegation was sent a day after Gov. Rick Perry issued a news release decrying the inclusion of the common standards criteria in the grant competition.
Perry is embroiled in a Republican primary battle with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and has cast her as a Washington insider.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said Texas' refusal to work with the other states on the common standards initiative does a disservice to the state's students.
"Other states want to race to the top, but Gov. Perry remains determined to pursue an ideologically driven race to the bottom," Doggett said.