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Omdahl: Federal takeover fears are unfounded

By Staff | Jan 16, 2015

Common Core, an effort to upgrade standards in key fields of study, has rallied a cadre of opponents who see the tentacles of the federal government reaching into school districts and destroying local control. The boogey word is “takeover.” It’s as old as the U. S. Constitution.

Even though Common Core was initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, opponents still see the federal government lurking in the details.

History is repeating itself. The fears being raised are so old they were first used against adoption of our beloved and revered Constitution.

In Pennsylvania, opponents of the Constitution claimed that “the powers vested in Congress by this constitution must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive and judicial powers of the several states”

In New York, the “Federal Farmer” claimed the Constitution was calculated to make the states “one consolidated government.”

He further claimed that the new federal government couldn’t carry out its powers without “calling to its aid a military force, which must very soon destroy all elective governments in the country.”

Other New York critics agreed with the “Federal Farmer.” They said that the new government couldn’t work without “the point of a bayonet.”

Another fearmonger claimed that “the state governments, without object or authority, will soon dwindle into insignificance, and be despised by the people themselves.”

Had the state ratifying conventions listened to these naysayers, the Constitution would not have been adopted and the United States of America would not have come into existence.

How accurate have these naysayers been? After 225 years of waiting in terror, we have not seen the Army driving the mail trucks or flashing the point of a bayonet.

The fears expressed did not come to pass because of the checks and balances and the federal system built into the Constitution and the influence of democratic processes. These deterrents to abuse of power are still very effective today.

Let’s move on to the fears being fanned against Common Core.

In 1965, a general federal aid to education program was launched, doling federal money to states for primary and secondary education. At the time, fears of a federal takeover were resurrected and predictions were made that Washington bureaucrats would be sitting at every schoolhouse door.

Fifty years have passed and we are still waiting for the first bureaucrat to show up. Off in the hills, we can hear a shepherd shouting “Wolf! Wolf!”

States are still passing the education laws and local districts are still hiring teachers, ordering textbooks and scheduling classes.

It is true that the federal government has leveraged federal aid to deal with various kinds of discrimination, including the mandate that local districts provide sports activities for girls and boys alike.

Without this mandate, we may not be seeing much girls’ hockey, basketball or volleyball in North Dakota. The girls would still be sitting on the bench in many school districts.

But it was hardly a takeover.

When it comes to standards in Common Core, the stakes are too high to let fear control the decision. Not only are international competitiveness and workforce requirements important but our students deserve an equal chance to enroll in universities anywhere in the United States.

In the future, universities in Common Core states will look with skepticism at graduates from non-Common Core states where lower standards of performance may have impaired student learning.

Federal takeover? Two centuries of experience tell us that this is an unfounded fear.

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