Federal Education Carrots Turn into Sticks

CascadeNewLogoBy Steve Buckstein

The debate over Common Core educational standards and the new Smarter Balanced high-stakes tests is heating up in the state capitol. The carrot of better educational outcomes is being overshadowed by the stick of losing lots of federal cash.

Critics of the federal role in education have warned that the new Common Core standards are simply a way for the federal government to wrest control of K-12 education from the states. Standards supporters say No—the standards are voluntary and emerged from states collaborating to improve educational outcomes.

But now, Oregon and other states are being required to administer high-stakes tests that have teachers unions, parents, and many legislators concerned. These tests are supposed to hold schools and teachers more accountable for results in their classrooms. Many parents see them as simply “teaching to the test” on steroids, requiring many hours of preparation and test taking that may actually take away from learning, not enhance it.

The Oregon House passed a bill, HB 2655, to let parents opt their kids out of the Smarter Balanced tests. But now, a top U.S. education official is warning that if the state lets this happen, we risk losing $140 million a year from the feds because these tests somehow promote civil rights.

A key sponsor of the bill, Portland Representative Lew Frederick (D), doesn’t believe the Obama Administration’s threat. He said, “Sanctioning a state for making reasonable public school policy would not be good for the long-term credibility of the federal role” in education.

Hopefully, Rep. Frederick and other legislators will come to realize that the federal government shouldn’t have any role in education policy to begin with. We wouldn’t risk losing any federal cash if those dollars weren’t taken from Oregon taxpayers in the first place.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy think tank.