One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Education Won't Work

Wednesday, 28 Jul 2010 04:09 PM

By Dick Armey

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Every single child in the American public education system is unique. Each student is an individual who learns differently, has diverse academic interests and learns information at different rates.

With regard to students learning diversity, children and parents should be able to choose the academic curriculum that best suits their individual needs. Yesterday, education secretary Arne Duncan even acknowledged that one-size-fits-all programs have a history of failure: “We are a very long way from the classroom in Washington and if we have learned one thing from NCLB, it’s that one-size-fits-all remedies generally don’t work.”

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program embraces the one-size-fits-all education model. Under the plan, educational grants are rewarded in a subjective manner to states that adopt more federally approved standards.

States that choose not to surrender to centralized standards risk losing billions of federal education funding. According to ABC News, “The Obama administration has embraced the idea of common standards, highlighting it as one of the four 'assurances' to compete in the 'Race To The Top' stimulus grant competition.”

Despite secretary Duncan’s claiming that he opposes “one-size-fits-all remedies,” he supports the federally imposed uniform standards: “The new standards are intended to replace the current system of uneven academic standards and benchmarks that vary greatly from state to state.”

As secretary Duncan asserted yesterday, “we are a very long way from a classroom in Washington.” An education standard that works well in one state may not necessarily be as effective in another state. A huge benefit of federalism is that states can act as “laboratories” for education policy.

Without federally imposed education standards, states are allowed to have competing standards in order to find out what works best.

While the administration claims that these Common Core State Standards are “voluntarily,” Cato Institute scholar Neal McCluskey states that this is far from the truth: "So in no way is this truly voluntary and there's no way that it's not national because the federal government is saying if you don't adopt these, you don't get any money."

It’s no wonder that nine states have already opted out of the Race to the Top contest. According to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Virginia would be forced to lower their education standards in order to win federal education funding:

The problem is one of the criteria is to adopt a common core set of standards — academic set of standards . . .We've had a great set of standards here in Virginia for 15 years . . . they would require us essentially to reduce the quality of Virginia standards, and we just can't do that.

Forcing all states to abide by the same federally imposed standards extends the one-size-fits-all educational system. Luckily, in states such as Pennsylvania, lawmakers have introduced school choice initiatives in their state Legislatures that would allow students in failing schools to attend a school with their preferred curricula.

When it comes to education, one uniform standard clearly does not fit all. This is yet another reason why all students deserve to be able to choose a school that meets their unique needs.


Dick Armey is former House majority leader, current chairman of FreedomWorks, and recent co-author of "Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto."

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