The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Robert Hol­land

Well be­fore the March 10, 2010, re­lease of the na­tional Com­mon Core (CC) stan­dards for K-12 math and English, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was pres­sur­ing states to com­mit to them if they wanted to com­pete for a share of $4.35 bil­lion in Race to the Top funds set aside from the fed­eral stim­u­lus.

All the while, the Washington-based CC col­lab­o­ra­tors — the Na­tional Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion’s Best Prac­tices Cen­ter, the Coun­cil of Chief State School Of­fi­cers, and Achieve Inc. (a rem­nant of the failed na­tional stan­dards push of the 1990s) — were is­su­ing reg­u­lar as­sur­ances these cur­ricu­lum stan­dards would be to­tally “vol­un­tary” and state-led.

Now, amid mount­ing ev­i­dence of the Com­mon Core’s se­ri­ous le­gal, fis­cal and qual­i­ta­tive flaws, some brave lead­ers in sev­eral of the 45 states that com­mit­ted to the na­tional stan­dards are try­ing to de­com­mit. It may be dif­fi­cult to un­scram­ble the egg, but if the CC were truly vol­un­tary, wouldn’t you think a state could at least de­bate with­drawal with­out in­cur­ring the wrath of Obama Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can?

In re­sponse to a leg­isla­tive pro­posal in South Carolina to halt CC im­ple­men­ta­tion, Mr. Dun­can is­sued a re­cent press re­lease de­rid­ing the idea that CC stan­dards are “na­tion­ally im­posed,” call­ing it “a con­spir­acy the­ory in search of a con­spir­acy.” He took a swipe at the Pal­metto State’s low­er­ing to mid-range its pre­vi­ously tough­est-in-the-na­tion English and math stan­dards, while giv­ing no credit for the state’s win­ning Ford­ham Foun­da­tion plau­dits for hav­ing the finest his­tory stan­dards of all 50 states.

It is un­clear who, if any­one, has la­beled the Com­mon Core a con­spir­acy, but fed­eral pres­sure to im­ple­ment it is plainer than ever af­ter Mr. Dun­can’s blast. Pres­i­dent Obama’s an­nounced “blue­print” for reau­tho­riz­ing No Child Left Be­hind (NCLB) would ef­fec­tively re­quire all states to em­brace his mono­lithic model of “col­lege- and ca­reer-ready” stan­dards. More­over, as part of its gen­eral ef­fort to seize law­mak­ing au­thor­ity from Congress, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­di­tion­ing NCLB en­force­ment waivers on states’ fully em­brac­ing the Com­mon Core.

The bid sup­ported by Gov. Nikki Ha­ley to re­store lo­cal con­trol of schools in South Carolina may have made Mr. Dun­can surlier than a jilted Chicago mob boss be­cause it comes amid a slew of ev­i­dence the Com­mon Core is shap­ing up as the costli­est, least-pro­duc­tive boon­dog­gle since the Lbj-era El­e­men­tary and Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion Act, passed in 1965.

The Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion’s re­spected ed­u­ca­tion scholar, Tom Love­less, re­cently pre­sented re­search de­mol­ish­ing the con­tention that na­tional stan­dards will raise achieve­ment ap­pre­cia­bly. Brook­ings is no tool of a vast right-wing con­spir­acy, nor is The Washington Post, whose veteran ed­u­ca­tion colum­nist, Jay Mathews, con­curred with Mr. Love­less in a Feb. 22 piece and con­grat­u­lated Virginia for snub­bing the CC and pre­serv­ing its own stan­dards.

Also on Feb. 22, the Bos­ton-based Pioneer In­sti­tute pub­lished a study show­ing tax­pay­ers in the states al­ready adopt­ing the Com­mon Core would have to shell out at least $16 bil­lion over the next seven years to re­or­ga­nize their schools to con­form to the na­tional model. That is a hefty price to pay for scant prospec­tive re­turn and the loss of free­dom to in­no­vate at the state and lo­cal level.

Fi­nally, is it all even le­gal? On Feb. 9, the Pioneer In­sti­tute re­leased a white pa­per by a for­mer gen­eral coun­sel and deputy gen­eral coun­sel of the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion point­ing out that since 1965, Congress has writ­ten into three laws strict pro­hi­bi­tions against fed­eral of­fi­cials di­rect­ing, su­per­vis­ing or con­trol­ling the cur­ricu­lum of any school or school sys­tem.

Bob Ei­tel and Kent Tal­bert con­cluded that if the Com­mon Core and the linked na­tional tests, which the feds are bankrolling to the tune of $330 mil­lion, take full ef­fect, states are likely to be­come “lit­tle more than ad­min­is­tra­tive agents for a na­tion­al­ized K-12 pro­gram of in­struc­tion. . . . The Depart­ment [of Ed­u­ca­tion] has sim­ply paid oth­ers to do that which it is for­bid­den to do.”

In the Feb. 24 edi­tion of The Chron­i­cle of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion (again, no right-wing or­gan), Peter Wood con­cluded na­tion­al­iza­tion “will dim the bright spots and sub­due the sense of lo­cal con­trol that is vi­tal to re­form,” not­ing Mas­sachusetts “has con­spic­u­ously low­ered its stan­dards in or­der to qual­ify for the fed­eral bribe.”

Even if Mr. Dun­can and the fans of Oba­maEd squelch the up­ris­ing in South Carolina, the fall­out could spark fur­ther re­volts across the na­tion. Maybe there is yet hope for keep­ing con­trol of ed­u­ca­tion clos­est to the peo­ple af­fected: the na­tion’s fam­i­lies. n Amer­i­can Ad­ven­ture” is best char­ac­ter­ized as au­to­bi­og­ra­phy lib­er­ally laced with opin­ion. The sub­ti­tle ref­er­ence to early avi­a­tion is some­what of a stretch. It’s true the au­thor’s fa­ther was Lloyd Stear­man, in whose air­craft le­gions of World War II avi­a­tors learned to fly. How­ever, ex­cept for be­ing son of the fa­ther, lit­tle of Wil­liam Stear­man’s life re­flects that avi­a­tion her­itage.

It’s too bad the book’s publi­cists made so much of that con­nec­tion be­cause it’s mis­lead­ing. Nev­er­the­less, Wil­liam Stear­man did have an in­ter­est­ing — some­times very ex­cit­ing — life, and it’s well he recorded it for the en­joy­ment of readers, re­searchers and, one must as­sume, fam­ily.

The story be­gins with his child­hood, which is noth­ing ex­cep­tional given the times. Yet, he goes into some de­tail about the then-ex­is­tent na­tional prej­u­dices, amount­ing al­most to an apolo­gia. There is lit­tle new here for those who ex­pe­ri­enced or stud­ied those preWorld War II years.

The nar­ra­tive picks up when the au­thor joins Navy of­fi­cer train­ing and winds up on an am­phibi­ous ship in the Pa­cific. Like many ju­nior of­fi­cers in a small ship, he held down a plethora of jobs and his ship found it­self in a fair share of combat, mostly around the Philip­pines. His de­scrip­tion of life and combat in a small ves­sel is good stuff, es­pe­cially for those who would like to know more about that part of Amer­i­can his­tory.

Also good stuff is his de­scrip­tion of even­tu­ally com­mand­ing that same, but now worn-out, ship sail­ing from San Fran­cisco, through the Panama Canal and up through Jack­sonville to Green Cove Springs, Fla. Equip­ment failed, skilled peo­ple had been dis­charged and it was an ad­ven­ture for sure. It’s a good ex­am­ple of what too of­ten hap­pened in that rapid de­mo­bi­liza­tion af­ter World War II.

Leav­ing the Navy, Mr. Stear­man de­parted the United States for a pe­riod of some 14 years to pur­sue post­grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion in Switzer­land fol­lowed by var­i­ous gov­ern­ment post­ings in­volv­ing ra­dio and public af­fairs in Aus­tria, West Ger­many and else­where in Europe. He wit­nessed the Hun­gar­ian up­ris­ing in 1956 and had more than his share of deal­ings with other gov­ern­ments (and spies from be­hind the Iron Cur­tain) as his broad­cast and an­a­lyt­i­cal ef­forts fo­cused on East­ern Europe and the Soviet Union.

In early 1966, switch­ing from his Euro­pean ex­pe­ri­ence, he was posted to South Viet­nam to head the North Viet­namese Af­fairs Di­vi­sion of the Joint U.S. Public Af­fairs Of­fice.

As it turned out, Mr. Stear­man was the only per­son in the of­fice who had any ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with Com­mu­nist coun­tries. He im­me­di­ately be­gan putting it to work in var­i­ous ways but par­tic­u­larly in the form of an­a­lyz­ing Hanoi news­pa­pers in an ef­fort to divine North Viet­namese in­ten­tions, an ex­er­cise that led to the ac­cu­rate fore­cast­ing of their moves.

Un­for­tu­nately, to the great dis­ap­point­ment of the au­thor, and per­haps to the detri­ment of the Amer­i­can ef­fort, he was not al­ways lis­tened to. Per­haps it was be­cause of that dis­ap­point­ment the au­thor saw fit to in­clude in his book long ex­cur­sions into Viet­namese his­tory, much of which is well-cov­ered else­where in lit­er­a­ture.

He left Viet­nam af­ter 20 months in-coun­try thor­oughly con­vinced the United States and its South Viet­nam al­lies had won the war — a view he laments was not shared by the lib­eral me­dia.

Dur­ing the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mr. Stear­man served on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil staff. In that ca­pac­ity he con­trib­uted to plan­ning for the 1970 Cam­bo­dian in­cur­sion and helped pro­vide backup for Henry Kissinger’s ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Viet­namese ne­go­tia­tor Le Duc Tho, which led to the 1973 Paris Peace Ac­cords.

Leav­ing the White House in Jan­uary 1976, Mr. Stear­man re­turned to the State Depart­ment and took a po­si­tion with the Arms Con­trol and Dis­ar­ma­ment Agency. That lasted only un­til the ad­vent of the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion when he took a sab­bat­i­cal from gov­ern­ment, with a spot of teach­ing at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity.

With the elec­tion of Ron­ald Rea­gan, he re­joined the White House staff, first on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil tran­si­tion team. His re­ports on White House per­son­al­i­ties, ne­go­ti­a­tions with Mikhail Gor­bachev, IranCon­tra and more are en­light­en­ing.

While Mr. Stear­man’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is over­all an en­gag­ing work, he com­pro­mises it with long di­ver­sions, dis­ser­ta­tions and polemics. The ed­i­tors should have been more force­fully in­volved.

Nev­er­the­less, the strength of “Amer­i­can Ad­ven­ture” is the au­then­tic­ity of the au­thor’s ex­pe­ri­ences in hot wars, the Cold War and bu­reau­cratic wars over the course of more than half of the 20th cen­tury. A reader who skips the di­gres­sions will come away with an en­joy­able read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

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