Maybe you’ve heard about the new Common Core education standards, an initiative created by a bipartisan group of governors to improve America’s competitiveness by setting more rigorous state K-12 benchmarks for English and math.
Or maybe you’ve heard about Common Core, the one-size-fits-all national curriculum promoting Islam, Naziism, and (of course) Obama that was developed in secret by a cabal of billionaires and federal bureaucrats and shoved down the throats of America’s schoolchildren.
Thanks to Gov. Phil Bryant’s executive order yesterday, concerned parents can rest assured that no mandates of the second sort will ever take effect in the state. But by failing to disavow the spurious claims made by many of his allies in the Legislature and conservative base, the governor dignified the misrepresentations that stoked such hysteria to begin with:
“There is serious public concern about the reach of the federal government into state public education policy, and this order makes very clear that Mississippi and its local school districts and not the federal government are vested with the authority to define and implement public education standards… Our classrooms will not become delivery vehicles for bureaucratic federal mandates.” – Gov. Bryant’s press release, 12/16/2013
Instead of taking the opportunity to educate the public about the state-adopted standards (note: not curricula) that he is on record supporting, Bryant chose duplicity. He sopped to the misinformed paranoia among his tea party supporters while promising to intercede if their worst fears ever materialized. His position is tantamount to telling your kids that the TV shows they saw about vampires were real, but not to worry, because you have a crucifix and garlic clove to protect them.
On the other hand, Bryant will tell the business community, who believe that Common Core is crucial for a better-educated workforce, that his order will not hinder the ongoing implementation of the standards. He will make the case that it was designed to quell opposition among the activist base by establishing a bulwark against the hypothetical expansion of federal power.
That renders the decree legally meaningless. It admits as much itself, buried in the third clause: “To date, the State of Mississippi has not received any federal funding or any federal directive relating to the adoption of such standards, curricula or assessments.” Gov. Bryant is looking for political credit from his base for warding off vampires that never existed in the first place.
The best possible outcome for the rest of us is that the order remain meaningless. If Bryant ever sees reason to carry out his ultimatum, the fallout will be as bad as any of the apocalyptic predictions that permeate the “Stop Common Core” Facebook page.
The executive order declares Bryant’s intention to nullify any federal education law or mandate relating to standards, curricula, or assessments. Most Mississippians probably thought that the doctrine of nullification had been buried with the old segregationist Ross Barnett, but Bryant has dug it up, dusted it off, and called it leadership “for all the right reasons.” It just goes to prove the adage that nothing dies harder than a bad idea. Everyone who has ever tried to challenge the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause has failed spectacularly, starting with John C. Calhoun in 1832.
The governor’s order also reserves the right to withdraw from any standards, curricula, or assessments that are tied to federal funding (similar to the billions of Medicaid dollars that he ceremoniously rejected this year). The question we should be asking the governor is, “Why not start now?” Mississippi already receives over $1 billion in federal education funding each year, accounting for 22 percent of total education revenues — a higher percentage than any other state. Even with that support, Mississippi cannot meet its obligation to fund schools at the self-professed “adequate” level. If Gov. Bryant truly wants to kick the feds out of Mississippi’s schools, he should be willing to send their money back first.
All of this relates to a fundamental question of leadership. If Mississippi ever hopes to advance educationally and economically, we must choose leaders who rise to the stature of our challenges. Unfortunately, too many seem to lack either the ability to separate fact from fiction or the courage to stand up to those who cannot.