The Obama administration is quickly moving forward with a plan that would impose one-size-fits-all national education standards and tests on states.
Such a move would likely harm Indiana students and result in the standardization of learning, rather than the establishment of high standards. And while the administration has decided to begin by encouraging states to adopt math and English standards, it's laying the groundwork for federally funded assessments in other subjects.
President Barack Obama has used his $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant competition as an incentive for states to adopt the national standards, which are being developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. States that agree to adopt national standards would be awarded more points in the RTTT competition. But because of the federal strings attached to dollars, several states, including Indiana, opted not to participate in the latest round of grant competition.
Recently, the administration announced that it intends to make receipt of $14.5 billion in federal funding for low-income children contingent upon a state's adoption of national standards. If that happens, Indiana would have no alternative but to comply with the federal government's standards and testing regime.
What would this mean for students? Indiana has relatively strong state standards when measured against other states. It's entirely possible that this new set of standards would be far inferior to those currently being used.
National standards would also make it more difficult for parents to force improvements. Instead of being able to petition local school boards or state leaders for changes in academic content, parents would have to lobby bureaucrats in Washington.
This is perhaps the most worrisome part of a shift toward national standards. If imposed, parents and taxpayers would no longer be able to retain one of their most powerful tools for school improvement: control of their state's academic content, standards and testing.
Furthermore, the push for national standards distracts from a more fundamental debate about what really ails education.
Parents now have less power than teachers unions or bureaucrats who distribute funding. Parents lack collective-bargaining power and seldom control spending. Parents have the most at stake in their children's educational well-being, yet the least control over the public education system. National standards wouldn't fix this fundamental misalignment.
Indiana should reject these national standards and instead provide clear information about school achievement. Ultimately, Indiana should empower parents, allowing them to use this information to select a school of their choice.
We know what works in education, and it begins and ends with empowering parents, not the federal government.
Burke is policy analyst in domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the IndyStar