Photo Credit: James Sarmiento/flickrOur current public education system is a cognitive dissonance writ large. In it we try to prepare our most precious youth for the rigors of global free market competition in an institution that actively suppresses it. How can a noncompetitive socialist education model- where everyone gets a trophy possibly prepare our students for the real world of intense market competition? It can’t.
Let me ask you a question. Would you buy a car that was rated 17th best in the world for quality? Would you buy a new computer or a iPad that was ranked 17th fastest? Would you go into a grocery store and purchase a similarly priced carton of milk that was ranked 17th in quality? Not likely. However, our public schools were recently ranked 17th in the world and taxpayers have no choice but to go with what is currently on the shelf. To borrow a phrase from the health care debate, we have a single payer education system. In state rankings Alaska ranks near the top in education spending but near the bottom in academic performance. Continually throwing more money at the problem only grows the burgeoning bureaucracy and further diffuses educational responsibility and accountability. Change is in the air. However like a lot of change options, one wears a black hat and one wears a white hat.
Two antithetical educational paradigms are competing for ascendancy in the public debate- Common Core and School Choice. The former seeks to homogenize our underperforming schools through imposing common standards and intrusive teacher and student data mining, while the latter seeks just the opposite by giving teachers and parents more latitude in education and interjecting free market competition into public schools.
The elements of Common Core were recently adopted in Alaska in a most circumlocutious way that bypassed the state legislature’s constitutional authority when the governor signed on to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)- a supergoverment group.
The goal of Common Core is to provide common standards in math and English language arts to better prepare students for college and the job market. Its diverse supporters include President Obama, Bill and Melinda Gates and Governor Jeb Bush. On the surface it sounds like a laudable and commendable idea. In practice however politics, sexuality, and political data mining have been woven into it causing widespread teacher and parent revolts and rejection in many states.
Proponents of Common Core state that the standards are just that- they do not represent curriculum. However, if your read the appendices, textbooks are cited in which to meet the standards. These textbooks are purchased on a six-year procurement cycle meaning they will be around for a long time.
Many of the standards have been criticized for being dumbed down and highly dubious. For example in mathematics, if a student adds 2 + 2 and arrives at 5, the answer can still be regarded as correct if the student justifies how they arrived at the answer. In another example, the political redistribution of wealth is used to illustrate the nonpolitical distributive property of algebra. Age inappropriate sexuality or even pornography is said to be at the core of at least three of the approved books. Perhaps the most disturbing feature of Common Core is the Fourth Amendment crushing imposition of Longitudinal Data Systems (LDS) to compile teacher, student, and family data. Students will have no constitutional privacy rights but will have their education information permanently recorded, shared among federal agencies, and sold to outside vendors. Extra-education data will also be recorded such as health, family political affiliation, religious affiliation, and income level. In Alaska, personal data from the PFD database has already been data mined.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, School Choice seeks to remove bureaucratic burdens from teachers and parents and let free market competition continuously improve the quality of education. For instance, if parents were given an educational voucher for each child, they could choose the best school to educate their child. Public schools, charter schools, and private schools would all have to compete for public funds, students, and the best creative teachers. History tells us that the biggest driver of innovation and technology as well as the best reducer of costs is free market competition.
Where do you find the highest performing schools in the English speaking world?- Alberta Canada. They have School Choice specifically written into their constitution. Parents have the freedom to place their children in any school of their choice. Schools compete, standards rise, and costs are lowered. We should have a strong public debate on amending Alaska’s State Constitution to implement School Choice similar to Alberta. After all it makes sense to copy what works instead of doubling down on what doesn’t.
Will the black hat George Orwellian 1984 model prevail in Alaska? Or will the white hat 1776 educational freedom and privacy model prevail? One thing is for certain, they are mutually incompatible. You cannot have freedom without privacy. Common Core involvement in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) coupled with the Alaska P-20W (pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education and workforce) Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) must be immediately banned by the state legislature during this next legislative session or the data mining of teachers, students, and home schoolers will grow unabatedly. Even if School Choice were adopted without banning Common Core, data mining and federal manipulation will extend into virtually any educational form. The death of privacy is the death of freedom.
I believe that all states in America, “are, and of right ought to be, free.” Abdicating the educational responsibility of our state legislature is wrong. As you ponder these thoughts remember that freedom, privacy, and free market competition isn’t just a metaphysical idea held by a few Americans. It was the belief of those who built this nation from the ground up- many of whom’s sons now lie under lonely white crosses as a result of defending these sacred principles. Freedom is America.
“Daniel Hamm resides in Palmer Alaska. He is an international airline pilot, small business owner, author, and active in local politics.”