For the last couple of years—ever since the nation’s governors and state superintendents started working on common academic standards in reading and math—conservative education analysts have engaged in a spirited but polite debate about the wisdom of this development. The last month has seen the discourse turn nastier, with charges and counter-charges, name-calling, and quasi-apocalyptic warnings about federal bureaucrats wanting to “control your children’s minds.” Particularly at issue in this latest round of recriminations is Uncle Sam’s role in all of this; are we witnessing a federal take-over of our schools? A push for a federally-controlled national curriculum for all public schools?
Some of these concerns are not entirely unfounded; the Obama Administration and other supporters of the move to “common” national standards (my organization among them) have made some unforced errors that have helped to fuel the paranoia. But for conservatives worried about federal interference in our schools, this debate is mostly a sideshow. What should really keep them up at night are the myriad proposals for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act that would push Washington’s hand ever deeper into the day-to-day operations of America’s schools—proposals that are coming from both sides of the political aisle.