Is federalism in the United States dead? Perhaps so.

Road Construction

Do you remember how the federal government strong armed the states to raise the legal drinking age to 21 back in the 1980s? They did it by withholding federal highway funds. Unless you raised your drinking age, you didn’t get the cash. Money talks, and as far as I know all 50 states now have their drinking age set to 21.

The federal government is playing this game again, but this time the targets are liberalizing policies on charter schools and evaluating teachers based on student test scores, among other things. These are framed by the administration as “reforms.” According to today’s AP article, “AP Interview: Ed chief says grants are for reforms:”

Charter school restrictions have now been eased in Louisiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Delaware and Indiana, and budget cuts for charter schools were defeated in Ohio, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The administration has also pressured states that prohibit student test scores from being used to evaluate teachers. Those states are Wisconsin, Nevada and, until Sunday, California. Wisconsin lawmakers are considering a change, while Nevada officials seem unlikely to act.
New York has a similar prohibition on using test scores in teacher tenure decisions, but it expires next year.

Somehow, when we elected a President from another political party, I naively thought we’d see a different agenda when it comes to education. So far, from what I’ve seen and read, it’s just more of the same that we saw from his predecessor. The best synthesis of this agenda that I’ve heard to date was shared by Dr. David Berliner in August 2006 at Texas Tech University, in a lecture titled, “Troubles for the NCLB Act: It may not be improving achievement and it corrupts the profession.”

Would a real leader please step forward and articulate a sincere educational reform agenda for our nation, which is not focused on punitive, high stakes testing and opening the coffers of public education dollars to private interests? I thought I voted for change in November. Apparently I was mistaken.

H/T to Will Richardson for the link to this AP article.

For more about this mis-informed and destructive “education reform agenda” which continues to be advanced by policymakers in Washington and elsewhere, see my post from May 2004, “School refinance, vouchers, generational compact and class warfare?”

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One Response to Again, U.S. federal funds used to strong arm state legislators

  1. Brunsell says:

    As an educator in Wisconsin, I am furious about the denial of funds solely based on our state’s law against using student test data for teacher evaluation. The Wisconsin Knowledge and Concept Exam is not a horrible test (as far as standardized tests go), but it is not a diagnostic test. It may provides some “low fidelity” information on what students know, but a single annual test does not show what what students have learned.

    I can understand the federal government saying that their needs to be some accountability for student learning, but it needs to be more comprehensive than a single test.

    OK, so while I am venting…

    Today Duncan talked about needing to train an “army” of new teachers. Do we need an “army?” He didn’t say anything about retention of current teachers. Somewhere around 50% of science and math teachers leave in their first 5 years. What is the point of dumping millions of dollars into developing NEW teachers if 1/2 of that effort is thrown away?

    GRRR…..

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