Homeschoolers, Christian Schools Concerned About 'Race to the Top' Standards

Christian school leaders, both homeschooling and private, are worried that federal education policies will infringe upon their autonomy.

Race to the Top is a federal program set up as a competition among the states to receive education grants. It required states to adopt the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) standards in order to compete for the funds, even before states knew what those standards would be.

The CCSSI was developed by a division of the National Governor's Association, a private organization, and largely funded by the Gates Foundation. The first round of applications were due January 2010. The first draft of the CCSSI was released afterward, in March 2010. The second round of Race to the Top applications were then due June 1 2010, the day before the final draft of the CCSSI was published.

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In an interview with The Christian Post, Maureen Van Den Berg, legislative director for the American Association of Christian Schools, expressed concern over the potential that the CCSSI could develop into a national curriculum that even private schools would be pushed into adopting.

"One of our biggest concerns is that [CCSSI] will turn into a national curriculum," Van Den Berg said. "If the federal government already has their fingers in the national standard movement because they tied the Race to the Top competition, the very first one, to the state's adoption of the common core standards, by tying the Race to the Top competition to whether or not the states adopted that, that's an indirect endorsement of the national standards, so it could very easily become a national curriculum. So, we're very concerned from a private Christian school perspective."

Van Den Berg also disfavors, in general, policies that infringe upon the local control of education.

"Anytime you've got a one size fits all attitude regarding education, it's never good for the students, the parents, or education in general," Van Den Berg added.

Homeschooling advocates share similar concerns. In an interview with The Christian Post, William Estrada, director of federal relations for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said that his organization opposes the pressuring of the states by the federal government to adopt the CCSSI, because policies that take away local autonomy for education also threaten homeschools.

"Our concern for homeschool freedom is that if every state and every student's curriculum adheres to the CCSSI, the pressure will mount for homeschool students to be taught and tested in line with the CCSSI. Many homeschool families choose to homeschool specifically because they want a different or better curriculum than that offered in their public school, and they would lose this freedom if they were required to follow the CCSSI. So far the CCSSI only applies to public schools, but it is doubtful policy makers would allow it to stay that way if it truly did become a national curriculum," Estrada said.

One of the ways that Christian schools and homeschools could be pushed into adopting the CCSSI is through college admission requirements, Van Den Berg explained. Since a large portion of these students will seek college admission, if the CCSSI were to become a basis for college admission or college admission exams, Christian school and homeschool teachers may feel obligated to adopt the CCSSI standards for their curriculum.

One of the architects of the CCSSI, David Coleman, was recently appointed CEO of College Board. One of the primary vehicles for determining admission by most colleges in the United States is the SAT exam, which is administered by College Board.

The Chronicle for Higher Education noted that Coleman views his new position at College Board as an opportunity to "bridge the divide" between K-12 and college education, and he hopes to align the SAT with the CCSSI.

Van Den Berg and Estrada did not express any particular concerns about Coleman at this time, noting that it is too early to tell what he will do in his new position.

"So long as Mr. Coleman doesn't try to use his position to push states that have refused the CCSSI and homeschool students into a de facto CCSSI requirement through changing the tests, HSLDA has no concerns," Estrada said.


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