The federal government has absolutely no constitutional right to control curriculum, but that’s not stopping the White House.
In 2011, the White House launched its online Learning Registry. The registry “helps content and information get between websites” to filter the curriculum that reaches teachers and track what they use, according to Steve Midgley, the deputy director of education technology for the U.S. Department of Education. Midgley helped the Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission change broadband Internet regulations — part of net neutrality — to get federally sanctioned curriculum into every child’s classroom.
The head of President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program, Joanne Weiss, recently wrote an essay in which she said, “New curriculum materials funded through Race to the Top and released in 2014 are already in use in 20 percent of classrooms nationwide.”
So where does Utah’s State School Board stand on federalizing curriculum? Apparently, with the White House. Its website touts adoption of “the nation’s first statewide digital teaching and learning master plan." It claims this is a Utah plan, but the main advisors to the state school board are from Common Sense Education — whose founder, James Steyer, was hand-picked by the White House to rate curriculum and help federally sanctioned curriculum rise to the top when teachers search resources online.
The New York Times reported: "In 2012, the FCC and the U.S. Department of Education tapped ... Steyer and James Coulter, a founding partner of the private investment firm TPG Capital to develop a national plan to improve education through technology. Called the Leading Education by Advancing Digital Commission, the privately financed group eventually recommended wiring all public schools with high-speed broadband; deploying more digital devices in schools; and promoting digital curriculums."
Utah’s master tech plan says that Utah will use online, Open Educational Resources. OER are part of White House Initiatives that use federal grants to get states using free-license curriculum and assessment resources. These free-license learning resources are free to schools, but they come with strings — the federally funded Common Education Data Standards. Learning-resource providers are using the data standards to maintain and gain access to the education market. The data standards ensure that teaching and learning can be tracked and controlled through the State Longitudinal Data Systems. With the data, the Learning Registry can filter its preferred curriculum resources, and those of its favored third parties, out to teachers. And the Utah Education Network is already using the Learning Registry.
Once the Department of Education knows what resources teachers are using, it can use the data to retrain or replace teachers. Utah’s master plan ensures that federal school turnaround experts are hired in our local schools to train teachers to use data to “improve instruction.” “Data-driven” decision-making is quickly becoming the local school mantra, but parents and teachers should know that it’s a federal mantra.
An open letter from Public Knowledge to Obama details a host of executive orders and federal grants that are helping the White House get OER into local schools. And, on Sept. 14, 2014, Creative Commons reported, "Yesterday at the United Nations, President Barack Obama marked the Open Government Partnership's third anniversary by announcing new commitments to ‘Promote Open Educational Resources, to help teachers and students everywhere.’”
Utah’s SB 222 put the White House’s digital teaching and learning plan in motion. A recent resolution wants Utah teachers to use assessment-embedded curriculums aligned to Common Education Data Standards. Meanwhile, Democrats are concerned that we are privatizing education, and Republicans are concerned that the federal role in education has reached disturbing levels. Both are correct. It’s called cronyism.
The question before Utah parents is this: Do we want a White House-controlled curriculum in our local schools? If the answer is no, then it’s up to parents to start contacting the state school board.
JaKell Sullivan is a member of Return to Parental Rights — a grass-roots parents group representing parents across America who are interested in preserving the family as the fundamental unit of society and parents' fundamental rights to direct their children's educations. The website can be found at www.returntoparentalrights.com.