Slowly we’ve witnessed an erosion of local control in public education across this country, though it hasn’t been as obvious since the Obama administration began the latest reform dubbed “Common Core.”
Nationwide we’ve seen a backlash from parents and teachers who are watching their schools move in a direction no one asked for or approved. What’s missing from this great debate? Why do parents now have to battle their schools when they are supposed to be the ones running them?
There are two reasons: one is federal overreach and the second is greed for government dollars and grant money.
As a researcher, I learned long ago that money drives public education.
Since the majority of funding for public education comes from local parents and residents, you would think they would have the loudest voice. Unfortunately, since parents cannot control taxpayer funds, they have almost no voice at all.
Federal and state governments attach strings to the funds they give local schools. That money, at least in my state of New Hampshire, tends to be less than what local residents actually pay, so government bureaucrats are controlling what goes on in our local schools.
Common Core tests required by state and federal law now drive the curriculum. When parents witness the convoluted Common Core math assignments and want to return to a traditional approach, they are met with resistance.
Parents have become so frustrated that they’ve begun a national movement to opt their children out of the Common Core tests. But how do the schools respond? By bullying and pressuring parents to increase the participation rate. School administrators do this because they believe the school will lose funding if more than five percent of students refuse the test.
We are finding, however, that school districts in New York, in which parents are leading the movement to “opt out,” are actually not losing funding. Plenty of school administrators in New Hampshire, nevertheless, are under the assumption that funding will be pulled.
We also have grant foundations like Nellie Mae, which is funded in part by the Gates Foundation—the primary source of private funding for Common Core. The Gates Foundation funnels money to Nellie Mae to offer grants to local schools and then requires those schools to follow its directives.
Often times these directives include mandating teaching methods that have no solid evidence for improving academic achievement. For example, the Nellie Mae grants can require teachers to use inquiry-based teaching. This is a teaching method that can actually lower academic achievement in mathematics.
Nellie Mae’s focus is on community organizing, not literacy and academic achievement. Through these grants, parents are experiencing teaching methods and curricula that either drive them to outside tutoring services or simply fail their children.
In Pittsfield, New Hampshire, for example, where the Nellie Mae grants are funding the local schools, you can read through the grant application to view the requirements for schools that want these additional dollars.
Parents who are frustrated by these teaching methods and curricula feel like they have no voice to make real changes. Their property taxes are taken from them, funneled to the school with no accountability. Parents can’t pull that money if the school fails to educate their children.
Who controls the public schools in your neighborhood? Sadly, it’s not the people who are raising the children and who pay the majority of the expenses in your schools.
This is how a top-down, money-driven public education system has harmed the quality of education our children are now receiving in our local schools. Greed and the heavy hand of the federal government have successfully cut the most important people out of the process.
Parents need to ask their elected officials and those running for office this question: What are you doing to return control of education to local parents and the local community?
Ann Marie Banfield is a grassroots parent activist and volunteers as an education liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire.