Many of us critics of the Common Core national standards are carrying forward concerns that former Secretary of Education Bennett voiced in the past. For example, in 1988 he wrote that the U.S. Department of Education is "specifically prohibited by statute from exercising direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum or program of instruction of any school or school system." He added: "I would have it no other way."
Yet the Obama administration has coerced the states via its Race to the Top program and its No Child Left Behind Act waivers into adhering to national curriculum standards and national tests. The Obama administration used techniques that Mr. Bennett deplored when used by the Clinton administration. When the Clinton administration used "enough money," in the case of President Clinton's Goals 2000 effort at national standards and tests, Mr. Bennett said, "to force state and local officials to follow the law's dictates, even when state and local officials know better." Furthermore, he complained that the Clinton administration had "mandated" curriculum standards that had earlier been promised would be "voluntary."
Back then Mr. Bennett joined with former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in saying that the Clinton administration's maneuvers had shifted the federal Education Department "ever closer" to becoming a "national school board." Today, Mr. Alexander has once again brought back the phrase "national school board"—this time to describe the Obama administration's maneuvers with Common Core.
Back then, Mr. Bennett wrote that the Clinton administration's maneuvers had "transformed" a "nationwide reform effort" into a federal program. Such maneuvers were "bad for children, for education, and for American federalism." I and my fellow critics would say the same today of the Obama administration's maneuvers with Common Core.
Williamson M. Evers
Mr. Evers was an assistant secretary of education 2007-2009.