But the President seems to be detached from those truths. He followed those statements with a plug for his education initiative, Race to the Top. That program is a heavy-handed, top-down effort that makes states, school districts, schools and teachers responsive to the policy dictates of the federal government rather than to parents. It undermines the right of people to make basic decisions about what their children learn and how they are tested and who teaches them.
In the State of the Union, the President aptly describes Race to the Top as a “competition” among the states. As the President put it, his Administration said to the states, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”
Competition is generally good. It gives the consumer a choice. They can choose the best product for their needs. In turn, the providers strive to make their product as good or better than the competition.
But the competition in Race to the Top is not in response to the consumer or user, rather it is in response to the policy dictates of the federal government. It is not a competition to see which states have produced the best product, rather it is a competition to determine which ones have best fallen in line with the policy preferences of the federal government. So when the President said that Race to the Top has “led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning,” he means that those states have signed on to the policies anointed by the federal government –not that they have determined those policies most responsive to parents and most in line with the best interests of students. That’s more like a monopoly than like true competition.
If fully implemented, Race to the Top will end the days when parents can effectively influence education policies by talking to the teacher or the principle or showing up at a school board meeting. Education policy-making will largely become the realm of the special interests that have the means to lobby or influence the federal government. Parents will have no part in those conversations and decisions.
Unfortunately, in formulating its policies, government only lightly takes into account the natural primacy of the parent. The tendency of government is to encourage or mandate a centralization of education decision-making. It is for a top-down approach. But a paternalistic approach diminishes the standing of parents and the institution of parenthood.
That brings us back to the President’s statement that the responsibility for learning begins at home. The Founders recognized this. They refrained from submitting to the people a plan that put the responsibility for education with the federal government. Instead, it was left with the people where it naturally belongs. Now it is time for Congress to make sure that the federal government respects that.
Emmett McGroarty is executive director of the Preserve Innocence initiative at the American Principles Project.