From Local to Large: American Educational "Progress"

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One topic seems to be dominating education news as of late: the Common Core Standards (CCS). Take a look at the explosion of articles on the subject in the last year or two:



There are a number of reasons why the fuss over Common Core has exploded, but probably one of the main ones concerns a loss of local control over education.

Although Common Core is officially a project of the states, the federal government has been an ardent supporter of the standards. This support was particularly seen through the Race to the Top program, which offered federal dollars to states adopting curriculum standards like Common Core. The federal government also poured over $400 million into standardized tests based on the CCS.

Due to the wording of the 10th Amendment, education in the U.S. has traditionally been viewed as the responsibility of individual states, not the federal government. Early documents in our nation’s history recognized the importance of education, requiring that a plot of land be set aside in every township for the purpose of building a school.

These land grants were eventually dotted with thousands of one-room schoolhouses, which oversaw the instruction of half of the children in America by the early twentieth century. Though the instruction was basic - and at times, primitive - many now recognize that these local community schools turned out well-educated men and women of upstanding character.

This realization did not materialize until after several decades of consolidation prevailed in U.S. schools. Because not every community had enough funds or children to justify large, state-of-the-art schools – particularly during the Great Depression – children were pulled away from their local communities and placed in a more centralized system with increased administration. Consolidated schools also removed children a step farther away from the eyes of watchful parents who could keep tabs on their child’s education and well-being.

The push for a federal department of education occurred in the 1970s and was overwhelmingly supported by the National Education Association, who backed Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election. Once in office, Carter returned the favor by instituting the Department of Education in 1979.

Although the change was not immediate, the creation of the Department of Education caused the federal government to invest itself more and more into the nation’s education system, particularly through more money and oversight directed at local schools. Eventually, the Department began overseeing and promoting programs such as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and now, Common Core Standards. The more programs like these have been instituted, the less it seems like parents, teachers, and the nation as a whole are satisfied with the education system.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad."

Did we lose our way when we moved education to the “kitchen” of the federal government and away from the small, but effective, local school?

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