Is Federalism In Education “Misguided”?

Henry A.J. Ramos and Eric C. Abrams wrote an op/ed for EdSource entitled, “Public education must promote participation in democratic process.” Ramos is the author of the forthcoming book Democracy & The Next American Economy: Where Prosperity Meets Justice. Abrams is the chief inclusion officer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. 

They write something that is truly mind boggling. Do they really think federalism applied to K-12 education is “misguided”?

Recent adoption of the Common Core by most states has achieved mixed results through a higher degree of standardization in teaching and testing content. In most places, this has led to incremental improvements but few major breakthroughs, especially in lower and middle income communities. This, in turn, has led to growing calls for less regulated and more varied approaches.

The notion, however, that further privatizing and decentralizing school policy and practice is a better long-range plan for American culture is deeply misguided. The idea of each state having its own educational approach and standards seems appealing on its face: “Let a thousand flowers bloom” say those who oppose stronger national standards for public schools.

But in today’s context of globalization and rapid technological transformation—forces that should be compelling us to harmonize as a nation—the absence of a more unified, strategic and egalitarian education approach actually works in the opposite direction. Indeed, it is working against us.

Where are these modest gains? What I’ve seen under Common Core is a growing achievement gap though. Scores have been stagnant. What data are they looking at? 

In fact, what evidence do they cite? Nothing. Where has centralization gotten us? Nowhere. The beautiful thing about federalism, especially as it applies to K-12 education, is that we have the ability to see what works and what fails without subjecting the entire nation to some grand experiment. 

This way state policymakers and local school boards have the ability to emulate success by applying what works if they want. 

Those who pushed Common Core ignored that benefit of having 50 systems of K-12 education rather than one national system. They could have modeled Common Core on the most successful states, but they didn’t.

Now we have spent countless hours and dollars on an education reform that has produced nothing.

Also, top-down policymaking and centralized education do the exact opposite of what the title of their article suggests. If you want participation in public education then policymaking needs to be done at the most local level, otherwise, citizens and parents will be ignored. 

Not to mention decentralization is what the founders intended and is the Constitutional model. The centralization of K-12 education has occurred over decades, and we have nothing to show for it. It’s time to embrace federalism and localization of education.