Who’s the head of public school education: local school districts, the state, or the federal government? Colorado’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) and its “national standards” has become a Medusa-like controversy.
The Colorado State Board of Education voted August 2 to accept Common Core Standards on a contentious 4-3 vote. The vote broke along party lines, with the exception of Vice Chair Randy DeHoff (R-South Denver metro), who supported adoption.
Arguments against standards did not address the benchmarks themselves. Opponent Peggy Littleton (R-Colo Spgs) argued that CCSSI is a “takeover” of education by the federal government. DeHoff and other board supporters said the standards address the challenge of educating Colorado students to compete for jobs across the nation and the world.
Standards created independently of the federal government
The standards were not developed by the federal government. They were written under the auspices of The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Other education groups, including the National Association of State Boards of Education, joined in. Teachers added input and direction. (Myths and Facts about CCSSI)
DeHoff said that standards’ opponents in Colorado have not directly attacked the benchmarks themselves because they are closely aligned to current state guidelines. The CCSSI project allows states to adjust up to 15 percent of the standards to accommodate local needs. (See standards k-12 by subject)
Local school districts will implement the standards based on the State Board of Education’s vote. But according to the Colorado constitution, education is the responsibility of local school boards, not the state or the federal government.
Money has strings
With funding resources so low at the local and state level, however, local school boards are relying on federal dollars to backfill missing state dollars (Colorado budget cuts to education). The recent federal allocation of $10 billion to help local schools stay staffed up is critical to Colorado school district budgets. Without that money, additional cuts over $200 million across all Colorado school districts would occur this year.
Once an entity above the local puts money into the education pot, that entity wants some say over the use of the money. Colorado helps local school districts at about a 60/40 ratio. Since the state started massive contributions to local schools in the 90’s, it’s demanded more and more authority over school districts.
The federal government at this point is much less invested in individual school districts. But the federal government has given dollars now to help schools through the recession.
The bottom line is that money talks. School districts in Colorado lost absolute control of local education when the state moved in with funding and added many requirements for that funding. The federal government added more requirements for its funding.
These issues obscure whether the standards are any good. Funding public education has taken on the quality of putting together a billion piece puzzle without a picture as a guide. The puzzle box is titled “Who heads public education?” As it turns out, the picture is of Medusa with all those snakes.