U.S. Dept. of Ed. is Breaking the Law

By 05/13/2011

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It is now clear, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s own description, that the Department is in violation of the law by which it was created.

Our criticism of the nationalization of standards, curriculum, and assessments elicited the following statement from Peter Cunningham, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education: “Just for the record: we are for high standards, not national standards and we are for a well-rounded curriculum, not a national curriculum. There is a big difference between funding development of curriculum—which is something we have always done—and mandating a national curriculum—which is something we have never done. And yes—we believe in using incentives to advance our agenda.”

Let’s leave aside the double-speak of how incentivizing is somehow different from mandating.  Instead, let’s focus on his admission that the Department is “funding development of curriculum” and is “using incentives to advance our agenda.”

The 1979 law by which the U.S. Department of Education is authorized in its current form clearly prohibits these activities.  It states (in section 103b): “No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.” (emphasis added)

So, the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education says that they are funding development of curriculum, but the Department is expressly not authorized to direct, supervise, or control curriculum.  They are are also prohibited from directing, supervising, or controlling textbooks or other instructional materials.

The Department seems to think that it is on solid footing as long as it does not mandate or control curriculum.  But the 1979 law restricts the Department more broadly.  It may not even direct or supervise curriculum.  I have no idea how the Department could fund the development of curriculum without also exercising some direction and supervision over that curriculum.

Nor can the Department justify its current activities by claiming that they are only funding the development of curricular frameworks and instructional materials.  The Department is also explicitly prohibited from directing, supervising, or controlling the content of instructional materials.

As far as I know, no law has specifically authorized the Department to engage in these activities from which they are otherwise prohibited.

I think they have been caught red-handed.

-Jay P. Greene

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