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.