In a recent article for Education Week, Rick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute suggested some fixes for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as Congress works through reauthorizing the funding for ESEA and No Child Left Behind. Buried in his list of fixes, Hess writes:
For all its flaws, NCLB does have one invaluable legacy. By requiring states to test in the same subjects and grades, Congress created a framework for the public to see how schools are doing. Setting forth this kind of framework is entirely consistent with Congress’s responsibilities under the “weights and measures” provision of the Constitution. Moreover, data reporting and analysis pose minimal implementation headaches, do not involve the feds in dictating practice or monitoring compliance, and equip the public to set priorities and make decisions. Washington should continue to require annual testing and reporting in reading and math, with results broken out by NCLB-denoted subgroups. It also can and should continue to use NAEP to calibrate and compare results across states—and illuminate those that are playing games. [Emphasis added]
Wait just a minute. Weights and measures? We’re seriously talking about measuring the minds of little kids like they’re sacks of soybeans? Putting their developing brains on government-approved cognitive scales like they’re sheep at a livestock auction? Absurd.
Hess, from the conservative AEI, apparently thinks the Founders had in mind PARCC tests and nationalized education standards when they wrote that “The Congress shall have Power To…fix the Standard of Weights and Measures….” in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.
While he has written a plethora of reasonable and helpful in-depth analyses of Common Core and NCLB — many of them critical — Hess nevertheless gets this one wrong. The “weights and measures” provision was included in the Constitution to facilitate domestic and international commerce, not to evaluate public schools.
Our kids are not “commerce” and they shouldn’t be treated as such. Congress has no “responsibility,” either implicit or implied, to enforce a national system of school accountability. The notion of “transparency” on the federal level stems from the wrongheaded de facto acceptance that the federal government has a legitimate role in education. It doesn’t. But once you accept that premise and the federal dollars that come with it (in most states around 7-8% of the education budget), before you know it, you’re twisting yourself into a pretzel trying to explain how the Constitution’s “weights and measures” clause was intended to make federal bureaucrats the overseers of local schools.
The federal government needs to get out of the education business altogether. Local schools ought to be calling their own shots about how their schools are run and determining for themselves what kind of accountability and testing they want. It was a pipe dream to think schools could be improved by having local taxpayers send their tax dollars to the federal bureaucracy, only to have the feds decide how much money the states get back after attaching impossible strings to it and making local educators jump through ridiculous hoops. It hasn’t worked in the fifty years it’s been tried and it’s not a prescription for future success in our schools.
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