AUSTIN, TEXAS–The role of the federal government in education was the main focus when former George W. Bush Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and California congressman George Miller (D-Concord) sat down for a chat with moderator Bob Scheiffer, CBS-TV “Face the Nation” fixture on the closing day of the 50th Annual Civil Rights Summit, April 10.
36th U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was remembered fondly as the education president for his legacy, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 which was later renewed as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) under President George W. Bush. Scheiffer called education the “ultimate civil right.” Similarly, another Bush era education secretary, Rod Paige, addressed this issue in a keynote speech at the Austin-held SXSW 2014 education conference in March.
It did not take much for the admitted leftist California congressman to call out opposition to Common Core as “a made up issue.” Miller added, “it’s a fraudulent issue” in response to Scheiffer’s question about public outcry against this Fed Led Ed.
Also, Miller insisted that Common Core opposition was really a fundraising trick or an ideological issue. He likened it to not being able to attack Obamacare forever so this was the “next generation” false narrative. He said the Stop Common Core movement serves “a narrow political purpose” and slammed nameless U.S. House of Representatives for their opposition to federal education policies.
Miller said, “we have a group of people you can call them Tea Party, they really don’t believe that the federal government adds any value.” Miller said the beliefs held by these representatives were “a complete denial of American history.” Miller claims that congressional Tea Partiers “don’t want to pass any education bill.”
Scheiffer also asked Spellings about what irked Common Core critics regarding the mandate. She droned, “oh Lord, that Washington shouldn’t have a role, that education is primarily a state and local responsibility; that we don’t need some centralized authority telling us what our kids ought to know and be able to do; that it will lead to a ‘national curriculum’,” which she gestured sarcastically in quotation marks.
However, when asked how much education has changed since LBJ enacted ESEA, Spellings stated that ESEA gave them a role on the federal level 50 years ago, a “clarion call to serve the needs of each and every student in the country.”
Spellings worried that unnamed “adult issues and interests trump” the needs of students and the federal government must “do what it takes educationally” with programs like the well-intentioned but overly-ambitious NCLB that sought 100 percent Math and English Language Arts K-12 proficiency across all economic populations by 2014. It did not happen. Spellings whooped up how under the new Common Core, this federal mandate will now promise 100 percent exemplary schools, an even more ambitious goal.
The two education policy wonks reminisced on the “common cause” of their previous NCLB legislation. They worked in a bi-partisan stew in the Bush White House that also included the late Senator Ted Kennedy, John Boehner and then-New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg.
Spellings and Miller applauded the role of the federal government in public education. Spellings said that what is happening now is that federal role’s being recalibrated as a “national imperative.” She continued to defend Common Core as “a governor created effort to create uniform standards at a higher level.” Those “governors” are a private non-profit policy organization called the National Governor’s Association.
Spellings blankly chided people who referred to the mandate as “Obamacore,” a term she said was “incendiary” and “like a rallying cry.” Spellings then commented on the current state of affairs with those Common Core critics “picking off” governors. She insinuated that governors like Mike Pence (IN), Bill Haslam (TN) and Mary Fallon (OK) were only rethinking the federal mandate because they were “under siege” by constituents.
Spellings shared an intriguing parallel to the original Republicans then presidential candidate George W. Bush brought with him. They are “the old Reagan orthodoxy” and they wanted to abolish the Department of Education, she told Scheiffer.
Spelling noted that Bush believed it was right and righteous for Americans to have a federal role in education and if federal dollars were spent. That was accountability. Even Miller praised Bush for holding educators’ feet to the fire but he also said that officials should be held to account for “equity of opportunities” and trying “to get the best outcomes for these children that we can.”
Miller was heavily invested in issues of civil rights and equity. He claimed that the Supreme Court made it clear in 1965 that education was a “fundamental constitutional right” but he was not clear if he meant that the right to get an education was the right, or the federal government’s role in education was the right. If he was alluding to the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), it never said that education was a constitutional right.
The case held that racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Equal Protectionclause means that states must apply the law equally and cannot discriminate arbitrarily against a person or group. Furthermore, the United States constitution showed no enumerated rights regarding education.
Miller commented that current education issues are about equity of the educational opportunity. He said, “The real issue of education is ‘do you have access to educational materials? That’s technology and a highly effective teacher, decent facilities, at-risk areas; do you have wrap-around services to support the student on the way to school, in school, and after school?”
Wrap-around services are a feature included in American Federation of Teacher’s (AFT) Reclaim the Promise that rethinks the local school into the family’s community hub 24/7.
Back on NCLB memory lane, Spellings recalled how the business and civil rights community came together in an alliance, a public and private partnership that made such policies possible. She remembered the foes of the time as employee groups and teachers unions and what she called “federalists,” those state’s rights folks who didn’t want any federal intervention into public education.
An interesting bit of information to spill out for the generation of students who schooled under the NCLB mandate came from Miller who said the NCLB testing was not designed for the purpose it was used. Students would now apparently thrive, under Common Core, in an advanced economy where they would finally be able to explain concepts learned in class.
Race to the Top (RTTT) was another topic; this was the contest that kicked off the Obama era federal education mandate in the 2009 stimulus package. States vied for mega-grants. In states like Texas and California that did not participate, individual school districts within these states could apply for the federal tax dollars through a provision called RTTT-D. The “D” means district. Last winter, Houston-ISD was awarded $30 million.
According to Miller, RTTT was the magic bullet that let states “go into the future through much better assessments and better, stronger curriculum.” He said that the Common Core assessments look more like those in Germany, Scandinavia, Shanghai or Singapore, according to Miller, who believed that the international flair was indicative of future regions American students will live.
The better assessments he described are that same ones that families have chosen to refuse this month–the SmarterBalanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) or the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC). Other components of Fed Led Ed that concern parents are the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) that dictate high school graduation pathways.
Late in the conversation, Miller expressed excitement with new teachers in the “teacher corps” who were entering the field and were fully prepared to be evaluated by the federal mandate. The Common Core ties their effectiveness as a teacher to the assessments that the students take annually. One of the criticisms from seasoned educators was the issue of tying their worth to a test instead of teaching and student time.
Perhaps the most foreboding words about the assessments came from Spellings when she described the technology where “assessments can be imbedded into education product with instant feedback, refined and enhanced in real time that’s fully customizable.” The futuristic possibilities might sound a lot better if these were not times where concerns of data-collection, the relaxing of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), loss of parental control, and questionable educational content plague the Obama administration education plan.
Houston native Margaret Spellings also helped shape education policy as President George W. Bush’s Domestic Policy Advisor, 2001-05. Today she is thepresident of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. Miller, a close confidant of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is currently working on President Obama’s early childhood universal pre-kindergarten education plan. After 40 years of service, he announced that he will retire from the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of this year. A few years ago, Miller and his lobbyist son were under investigation for corruption.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom
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