Nationalization Weasels

By 05/10/2011

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If advocates of the nationalization of education had greater intellectual integrity, they would openly declare that they favor nationally uniform standards, curriculum, and assessments, and that producing greater uniformity was desirable.  But “intellectual” and “integrity” are not the first things that come to mind when thinking of the U.S. Department of EducationGatesAFTFordham coalition pushing nationalization.

Instead of a straightforward and open defense of their agenda, I anticipate that the U.S. Department of EducationGatesAFTFordham coalition (along with their two hired assessment consortia and corporate backers) will respond with weasel words.  We’ve already seen some hints of their response, so my predictions will not be as impressive as those in the Fordham Report Drinking Game, but feel free to drink nevertheless.

They’ll say that they are not actually advocating a national curriculum.  Instead, they will say that they are only developing  “curricular roadmaps,” “multiple curriculum resources,” ”instructional materials,” “content frameworks,” “model instructional units, “content modules” or similar such weasel words.  Their talking points clearly instruct them to 1) use curriculum as an adjective instead of a noun since “curricular [whatever]” sounds like less than “curriculum,” 2) emphasize the plural so it sounds less uniform, 3) substitute a synonym for curriculum, such as “framework” or “model” so that you avoid clearly stating what you are developing.  Credulous reporters may sometimes buy the claim that these weasel words represent important distinctions, but I suspect that members of Congress are less likely to be as easily fooled when Department of Ed officials are called for hearings to explain the legislative authority by which they are developing a national curriculum.  And I suspect those hearings are not too far in the future.

The nationalization folks may also hide behind the fact that there are two consortia, so clearly they do not desire a single national set of curriculum and assessments.  Having a choice among two federally funded products is a bit like the old joke where you have a choice between death and roo roo.  If you haven’t heard it, you might guess or check this out, but I think you’ll agree that this is hardly a choice.

Or perhaps the U.S. Department of EducationGatesAFTFordham coalition will respond that the consortia are primarily devoted to developing new assessments, not curriculum (or curricular [whatever]).  Just remember that assessment can drive everything else.  Once you have high stakes national assessments you have a de facto national curriculum.

And I am certain that we will hear that the entire enterprise is voluntary.  Of course, there is nothing voluntary about mandating that states and localities comply if they wish to receive Title I funds when ESEA is re-authorized.  If U.S. Department of EducationGatesAFTFordham pledge to do nothing in the ESEA re-authorization or future Race to the Top to reward, incentivize, encourage or otherwise coerce states and localities to adopt the national curriculum and assessments that are being developed, then this claim might have some credibility.  But they haven’t declared this as their position and they won’t do so precisely because they are not seeking a voluntary arrangement.  We have already seen fiscal coercion from the previous round of Race to the Top to get states to adopt the Common Core national standards.  Expect more of this.  And saying that states and localities can choose to forgo federal funds if they don’t wish to comply sounds about as voluntary as saying that paying your income tax is completely voluntary because you can always refuse and choose to go to jail.  Taking money from people and only offering them a share back if they comply is coercion.

The nationalizing coalition uses weasel words because their entire project depends on stealth.  If we have an open and vigorous debate about whether it is desirable for our large, diverse country to have a uniform national set of standards, curriculum, and assessments, I am confident that they would lose.  Time and time again the American people through their political and educational leaders have rejected nationalization of education when it has been proposed in a straightforward way.  Having learned from those failures  the U.S. Department of EducationGatesAFTFordham coalition is trying to advance nationalization with piece-meal steps disguised in weasel words.  With the new Manifesto against nationalization I think we have brought the debate out into the open and the U.S. Department of EducationGatesAFTFordham‘s agenda cannot survive in the open.

– Jay P. Greene

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