If you grew up in the 1970s, 80s, or 90s, then the concept of standardized tests is something familiar. This annual tradition in some states was useful in the determination of information retention for the core materials taught that year. It was a week or more of a different routine. Some kids thrived in this environment, but there were others who just fought to survive.
Schools are still requiring students today to take these assessments each year. This information serves as a benchmark for the performance of the teacher in their classroom now, in addition to being useful as a measuring stick for student progress. It is the state’s role in the United States to determine what the assessments should cover, so there is no clear answer from an American perspective on what to expect from the time spent in school.
One of the ways that this issue could be resolved with clear expectations is to bring more federal involvement into the education process. By creating a system of national expectations that each state government must follow, there could be more consistency in the American educational system. There is also the issue that having more government involvement won’t guarantee new results.
This guide will take you through the essential advantages and disadvantages that may arise if there is more federal involvement in education from an American perspective.
List of the Pros of Federal Involvement in Education
1. Federal involvement would eliminate the inconsistencies in the system.
If the states in the U.S. are in charge of setting their own standards of education, then it creates a system where every territory, district, and legislature could set their own expectations for curriculum development. There is no way to create an accurate picture of how the educational system in the country performs at the national level because there are 50+ different ways to measure results. Creating a single standard would help teachers, administrators, parents, and students have a clear idea of where they stand compared to others throughout the country.
2. It would help to hold school districts across the country accountable for their actions.
Having a national set of standards would make it easier to hold underperforming school districts accountable for their actions. Although most teachers and administrators want to see their students succeed, the implementation of IEPs and other plans that encourage individual learning are not always followed. Getting the federal government involved in the educational systems across the country would make it easier to create one set of expectations to which everyone could be held.
3. Students could move between schools with less difficulty.
Under the current American system, moving from one state to another creates a unique set of challenges for some students. If the standards are exceptionally different, then the difference in a child’s education could move them a full grade up or down in extreme circumstances. Families don’t know what to expect because there the standards are not the same. Having the federal government involved in the educational system beyond Common Core expectations allows for more consistency with the student experience.
4. It guarantees that the American system follows international benchmarks.
Under a system of state implementation, American public schools are only held to the standards that the local legislature sets for them. If the federal government becomes involved, then all U.S. schools can begin to follow the international benchmarks that are helping other countries find more success. Although this advantage may not provide a guarantee of results, it is a change that could help the next generation of students be more competitive in a global environment.
Like it or not, the world is becoming a smaller place and international work will likely become more common in the coming years.
5. There could be opportunities for cost-sharing with federal guidelines in place.
When Common Core standards were adopted across the United States, it became possible for school districts to begin sharing costs for common tasks. Scoring, grading, and curriculum creation all followed the same standards, which means a centralized expense structure was formed. Without federal involvement in the educational system, there are 50 different cost standards to consider. That structure reduces the opportunity to purchase supplies with the leverage of scalability. By working together, schools could save money, help taxpayers with costs, and potentially improve the quality of the learning environment all at the same time.
6. Federal involvement would create standards for each subject.
With the institution of Common Core standards, federal involvement in education helped to provide more consistency in mathematics, reading, social students, and other essential subjects. Moving toward full integration on a national level would allow other subjects to receive the same treatment. Proponents believe that this process could lead to higher developmental levels in problem solving, critical thinking, and the creative arts. This advantage could even include technical skills that students could use in lieu of going to a traditional college or university setting one day.
7. It could lead to better individualized educational approaches.
If the federal government would get involved with the American educational system, then critics fear that the approaches they use would be generalized instead of individualized. The current American system already encourages grading on a curve in the higher grades of the K-12 system. By creating a single set of standards that could go through a simplified grading process since the curriculum would be similar, there would be less time needed to grade each student. That means we would have more information to use outside of the standardized testing methods currently used to spot problem areas in some subjects.
8. Students would have a better idea of what to expect with federal involvement.
When everyone is on the same page in the American educational system, then there is more understanding of the information being passed from teacher to student. There would be more time with federal involvement to convey why some forms of learning follow specific processes. It would require a transition period over a few years that could be challenging for some families, but it would help future generations find better learning and application opportunities within the school systems across the country.
9. Federal involvement creates a professional network for teachers and administrators.
When there are national standards in place for an educational system, then teachers and administrators have more opportunities to form professional networks. It creates more chances for collaboration, professional development, and ongoing educational opportunities because everyone is already on the same page. When each state uses a unique system that applies to local districts only, then this advantage can only apply within a specific set of boundaries. When there is federal involvement in the educational system, then this benefit can apply to everyone involved in the K-12 system.
10. It creates more empirical-based learning methods.
When today’s parents were students, it was not unusual for teachers to expect the correct answer and nothing more. If you had the wits to look at the back of your book where an answer key was located, then you could get by without really learning anything. Thanks to the federal involvement in the American educational system, Common Core mandates that kids show their work when providing an answer. If there are errors in the steps, then teachers can intervene immediately to ensure students understand the “why” of what is being learned instead of relying on the final outcome.
Proponents suggest that this benefit also makes it possible for students to defend their work because they understand the steps required to achieve a specific answer.
List of the Cons of Federal Involvement in Education
1. It would add another level of bureaucracy to the education system.
If the federal government gets involved in the education system, then it would create another level of bureaucracy that could bog down the entire process. The states would need to collect data about the testing and methods used to then send the information off to the federal government. Then the feds would need to determine what that info meant, relate their findings back to the states, and this process would then need to develop solutions that would help students.
Local governments are usually better equipped to identify and solve problems at individual public school districts. Sending the data to the national government may not allow for individualization that could help produce better student results in the future.
2. There is no guarantee that the results would be better.
The American educational system struggles against the rest of the developed world for a variety of reasons. One small solution is not going to fix every issue. The public schools in the United States need teachers who are paid according to their responsibilities. They need access to resources instead of tax breaks. There must be manageable classroom sizes and an understanding of the curriculum at all levels of all schools. Far too often, the schools in economically disadvantaged areas fail to thrive because they lack access to these resources.
3. It could reduce the quality of education for some students.
When Common Core standards were introduced in the United States, Indiana, California, and the District of Columbia all had higher expectations for their students. Almost a dozen other states had results that were comparable to what was introduced. That means the $3.5 billion in spending that each state government competes to earn from the federal government could create a problem where great standards are reduced in an effort to receive funding. Critics of federal involvement would say that we should strive to achieve the highest quality standard instead of encouraging lower-level results.
4. There is still too much emphasis placed on testing.
The only practical way to test information retention in a practical way is to offer standardized tests to students. Some students do not perform well on these tests because of the way that they learn. Federal intervention has helped to create some flexibility in this system by allowing those with identified learning or developmental disabilities to have accommodations, but it doesn’t fix the entire problem.
Some students have a high emotional IQ that doesn’t accurately reflect their intelligence on the current standardized tests. Creative approaches to learning don’t always translate into multiple choice answers.
5. It won’t eliminate the habit of teaching to the test.
Federal involvement in education can help to reduce the trend of judging teachers by the results their students generate on standardized tests, but it won’t eliminate it entirely. By trying to “manipulate” the data to suggest that students are well-versed in the subject material covered by the exam, there are learning deficits that occur in other areas. Instead of being taught a practical education, today’s K-12 environment would still be directed toward the teaching of test-taking skills that meet the desired high standards.
6. Federal involvement could reduce help for students with special needs.
As the federal government worked to revamp the K-12 educational system in 2015, it set aside about $250 million for preschool development. There are additional opportunities for special needs students as well. When we look at what Common Core provides to schools today in the United States, critics suggest that students with learning disabilities are treated the same as a child who might be in a district’s gifted and talented program.
Up to 60% of the students in some under-performing school districts in the United States have an identified learning issue. That means holding all schools to the same standards will create funding issues for the districts that must create more IEPs and implement other forms of teaching that fall outside of the “standardized” method.
7. It could encourage more educators to retire.
Teachers in the United States have gone through three different variations of educational standards if they have more than 20 years of teaching experience. Forcing them to go to another system because of federal involvement is an issue that critics say could encourage more educators to retire. Many communities are already short on teachers and other school staff. This disadvantage could be especially devastating in the states that might see a reduction in their standards as they meet the national requirement.
The best way to avoid this potential issue is to allow states that have standards that already exceed the federal minimum to keep them. Doing that would also reduce the benefits of going to one system, so the trade-off would need to be examined carefully.
8. The federal government could create vague standards to follow.
As states transitioned to the Common Core standards, the vagueness of some requirements created uncertainty in the educational system. Since the federal government was involved in that process, critics suggest that a similar outcome could occur if the feds were given the freedom to do what they wanted with the system.
There is also the problem of politics when looking at this disadvantage. Each election cycle would create the risk of changes to the standards as one party seeks to counter the impact that the other would have had in the previous session. In the polarized climate between Republicans and Democrats, it could create a system of compromise where the risk of sliding even further backward when compared to the rest of the world.
9. New standards create additional costs in other industries.
When the United States updates its educational standards, then there are associated changes that must occur in the textbooks and curriculum to meet those expectations. These costs are usually not factored into the figures that get released to the public. Since taxpayers would subsidize this expense with federal involvement in education, the cost of getting a high-quality K-12 education may continue to rise. Then there are the printing, distribution, and similar expenses to consider as well.
10. It places the entire emphasis on the test results.
The standardized testing that occurs with a national education system place all of the emphasis on the results of the test instead of the body of work that the student produces. Kids in the K-12 system could have perfect results during their coursework, flunk the test, and the results would place them into a low-performance category. Since some tests are electronically administered, an equipment malfunction could produce artificial results that might stick with a student throughout the remainder of their school career.
There are some appeals processes in place that can reduce the impact of this disadvantage. Proponents of federal involvement suggest that new laws could help kids avoid this issue altogether. Unless the standardized results include other work, there will always be a high-stakes approach to each test.
11. The levels of federal involvement are not showing improvements.
When the United States adopted the Common Core standards, most of the infrastructure was in place in less than a year. Additional legislation in 2015 helped to support the system so that it could be effectively implemented using the initial educational act standards from the 1960s with some essential upgrades. What we are finding in the years since the implementation of this process is that the results are not improving the quality of a child’s education.
From 2008-2017, Common Core standards have led to modest declines in the reading scores of fourth graders and the mathematics results from eighth graders. There are studies from 2013 that show some test scores did show some modest improvements. In either case, the results that occurred were far less than the far-reaching gains that were expected.
12. It would require additional teacher training that may not occur.
Critics of federal intervention would also point to how Common Core was rolled out to the states that voluntarily accepted the standards. In Massachusetts, educators said that their training on the new material was “low quality.” New York City public schools didn’t even receive the textbooks that were aligned to the new standards in time to start teaching them to their students. Many districts were instituting high-stakes teacher evaluations based on standardized testing at the same time, which further reduced the impact of the effort.
Verdict of the Pros and Cons of Federal Involvement in Education
Although there are clear disagreements as to whether or not the federal government should become involved in the educational systems in the United States, no one seems to disagree with the idea of providing benchmarks for students to achieve, The idea of holding schools accountable to them is something that proponents and critics support on some level.
Where there is disagreement with the pros and cons of federal involvement is how those standards get created and who should be responsible for the accountability.
There are still many unknowns from an American perspective about how a change to the educational system could benefit students. Risks are present with any form of change because the results could be inferior after the implementation of new standards. At the same time, the status quo doesn’t seem to be working, which means something needs to be done.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.