The federal government is steadily taking over the public schools of America, thereby eroding what is left of decision making by elected local school boards. The move for all 50 states to adopt the “Common Core” curriculum standards is one example. Another is the U.S. Department of Education’s new mandatory “guidance” on school discipline practices. Both federal initiatives punish those states and local districts that will not willingly go along.

Space prevents me from listing already existing massive federal mandates, all of which are either under-funded or unfunded. In order to increase federal control, the “Common Core” curriculum standards are now tied to federal dollars such that only those states adopting them are eligible for the massive “Race to the Top” educational funding. Most importantly, the Common Core dictates what is to be taught K-12.

I must admit some bias on this issue. In 2011, I joined Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott and others testifying at the Texas Legislature against Texas adopting the Common Core standards. Why? Expert analysis demonstrates Texas curriculum standards are higher than those within the Common Core. Moreover, the adoption of federal standards would cost billions and disregard all superior curriculum work in Texas. In this world of “strange bedfellows,” even educational experts from Massachusetts testified at the Texas Legislature against the Common Core as inferior. Our legislature had the good sense to subsequently avoid adopting the Common Core. But as you may have heard, the failure of Texas to adopt results in federal punishment — meaning we are eligible for substantially less federal funds. So your federal government collects taxes from Texans — and distributes them elsewhere in the nation — so that those who play ball get them. I don’t think that’s right.

A second method of controlling how our Texas kids are educated is through defining who can be disciplined and how. Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, recently released “guidance” on discipline for all public schools. By citing current statistics, the new regulations ASSUME that American teachers and administrators are prejudiced and discipline more harshly those among us who are minority students. So those school districts that have a “disproportionate” percentage of minority students disciplined will now face investigations by the Office of Civil Rights and inevitably, lawsuits. And while I’m sure Mr. Duncan would dispute his “guidance” being called a quota system, that is certainly what it is.

Mr. Duncan tells us “safe campuses” result from less “exclusionary” discipline! So federal officials believe that school suspensions and expulsions cause unsafe schools. This is nothing but Orwellian 1984 doublespeak — which is defined as “language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.” Watch Mr. Duncan’s video. He explains this new federal “guidance”:

Walter E. Williams is an African American professor of economics at George Mason University. Read his insightful entry on this subject: It is titled “Equality in School Discipline is Absurd.” It can be found here:

I have written to you about just two federal power grabs within public education. But where is Constitutional evidence of the U.S. government’s role in public education? It’s simply not there. On the contrary, you will find the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Translation: Power to regulate education in Pearland belongs to elected Texans, not the Executive branch of the U.S. Government.

Unfortunately, once the federal government enters into any area of public or private life, it NEVER leaves. And the American people are letting it happen. We’re like the fable of the frog in the kettle. It is placed in the kettle when the water is cool. When the temperature is turned up slowly, it doesn’t perceive the threat. By the time the water boils, it is too late.

The water is boiling in America. With the mandatory adoption of the  Common Core — and a quota system for school discipline — we are guaranteeing our children will be even less able to discern the true temperature of the times.


  1. 1 Shanedria Wagner July 25, 2014 at 1:22 am

    Kudos to you Dr. Kelley! A “dumbed-down” curriculum is the last thing we need. A former IB student, I maintain high expectations regardless of the labels students wear. The assumption of prejudice is very un-American. If teachers master teaching strategies on the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy, our education crisis would be solved. I love that secondary students in PISD are introduced to Bloom’s taxonomy, an essential tool for metacognitive thinking and skill mastery.

  2. 2 Sue Rowell Stringer July 24, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    I too appreciate your willingness to speak out and that you understand the limits of the Constitution and the 10th Amendment as to our roles and responsibilities. I would like to ask you as one other has done here as well and I don’t believe you quite answered the question: will Pearland be withdrawing from TASA and TASB — since both of these organizations promote Common Core and the elimination of elected school boards?

    • 3 Dr. John P. Kelly July 28, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      Sue: I appreciate your agreement as to what the Constitution says and does not say! I also continue to believe that both the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) provide outstanding service in many, many areas. By the way, I made a point of asking TASB about their view of Common Core. They do not promote Common Core – and they certainly do not promote the elimination of elected school boards. I have interacted with both TASA and TASB for more than 22 years – and I have found them unflinching champions of Texas elected school boards. And I have found that almost every trustee I’ve served with has appreciated the services put forth by TASB. While I wouldn’t be surprised if people associated with TASA (such as administrators throughout the state) occasionally express exasperation when individual board members act poorly, overall the TASA people enjoy a close working relationship with boards – as evidenced by the annual joint convention each September – at which thousands of both groups come together for training. So the answer to your question is: No, I see no reason for disassociating with either TASA or TASB. They are tremendous resources for Texas school districts.

  3. 4 Marvin Tyson July 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    The U.S. Constitution gives a clear and concise list of things the Federal Government has legitimate authority to do. Public education is nowhere to be found on that list.
    It also has a clear listing of all things the State Government is prevented from doing. Public education is not on that list either.
    So, why do we allow the Federal Government ANY voice in what is done in Texas schools?
    Texans should insist that the spineless leeches in Austin stand on their hind legs like men and Texans, insisting that the Central Government keep their hands off Texas public schools, and their mouths shut about how they are run!

  4. 5 Laura Torres April 24, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Dr. Kelly, I completely agree with your stand on Common Core and the constant intrusion of the federal government on what should be a state decision about our education system without tying it to federal dollars. My question is this: Although not officially a part of the Common Core curriculum, why do we use the Springboard texts as part of our curriculum when it clearly states on the cover that it is in alignment with the Core Curriculum.

    • 6 Dr. John P. Kelly April 24, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Laura: Your question helps people understand some of the confusion within these issues. I will take Algebra II as an example: There is always overlap between competing curriculum standards. Algebra II is Algebra II – and there is much overlap, regardless of the curriculum. Vendors who provide services to us, more times than not, say that they comply with any and all curriculum standards – in order to sell their product. Thus, we do not make a decision to use such products unless we think they provide the elements within our Texas curriculum – that we need. We often reject products that make all kinds of claims – and stick to what our teachers and administrataors provide as the best textbooks/resources available. In the case of “Springboard”, I’m told by our people that some of their resources are useful; others not; and still others of limited use – to be supplemented by other sources. Furthermore, Springboard curriculum is tied to Pre-Advanced Placement courses – which are specifically prepared to give kids an edge when taking AP COLLEGE COURSES for credits. Such AP courses are COLLEGE LEVEL material – and thus outside the scope of K-12 Texas or federal curriculum standards. Hope this helps.

  5. 7 Trey Willbanks April 23, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Well said, Dr. Kelly. I commend your willingness to speak out publicly on these “controversial” issues and I think your view is spot on.

  6. 8 James Thornton April 23, 2014 at 9:11 am

    While I’ll agree public education is having more than its share of trouble these days, I don’t agree with Dr. Kelly’s conclusions.

    I offer a more historical view:

    I attended Pearland ISD, from first through twelfth grade, graduating in 1977. I ranked about the middle of my graduating class, so most would consider me representative of the general level of education one would receive from PISD in those days.

    There was basic skills testing at different grade levels at the time, but no real tie between that testing and promotion from one grade to the next. The public rule was: if you didn’t pass your subjects, in most instances you didn’t advance to the next grade. The unspoken rule was: They passed you anyway, particularly in the upper grades. Too many students, too few resources, was the mantra of the time, and our state legislature went along with it, as they didn’t want to raise taxes. The result was, a significant minority of my graduating class could not read when they graduated, not even at a third grade level. Other skills were lacking as well, particularly math and science skills. The feeling on our school board was, if the teachers taught, and the students didn’t learn, well, that was the students’ problem. They could always dig ditches to earn a living.

    In the 1980s, that started to change. Governor Mark White got legislation passed that required teachers pass basic teaching skills tests to become apprtoved to teach (certification), student classroom populations were mandated to be reduced, student athletes could no longer skate through class not submitting work for a grade, and mandatory standardized testing began to be required in order to graduate. He made a lot of people in public education mad, and they voted as a bloc to replace him with Bill Clements at the next election.

    His legacy still exists today, though the trend as been more and more about teaching to the test, instead of teaching the core subjects to an acceptable level of competency, particularly those subjects supporting the STEM disciplines. I don’t think that was the original intent, but that is what public education has evolved into since those landmark changes.

    I’d like to close with a couple of points:

    1) I achieved much since graduating from Pearland ISD, despite a lack of higher education. I am an engineer, managing other engineers. That came about because of persistence and opportunity, not because of the substandard education I received at PISD. I self-educated myself, and various people gave me the opportunity to better my circumstances at key points in my career. Had I graduated in the past decade, it is unlikely I would be presented the same opportunities without a bachelors degree. Proof of education has become much more important that demonstrating that education stuck.

    2) Considering the cost of higher education today, it is increasingly important that our high school graduates exit our public and private schools with adequate academic skill-sets. Common Core offers that. Teaching to the STAAR tests, or more tests and mandates like it, does not. Though I have misgivings about the federal sponsorship of this initiative, it is increasingly apparent our state legislators, nor our public school boards and public school administrators will quit squabbling long enough to enact the reforms required.

    Continuing down the same path we are on will result in an uneducated populace and many of today’s major employers leaving the state because there will no longer be an adequately educated and trained workforce to sustain them.

    Is that what you want? If not, act. Get involved locally and at a state level. We are raising and educating the taxpayers of tomorrow. Do you want to be working into your dotage because our tax base becomes too stupid to support a well-paying (tax-paying) job to support you in retirement?

    • 9 Dr. John P. Kelly April 23, 2014 at 10:20 am

      I appreciate your thoughtful reply James. But let me suggest this: Whether or not the Common Core is adopted, both the federal government and the states will continue to require as much or more testing as they do now. In fact, Texas is right now arguing with the feds over the federal demand for additional tests beyond the large number we already administer. Thus, teaching to the test, if the Common Core is adopted, only changes what the kids are tested on – not whether kids are tested or prepared for such tests. Furthermore, current federal law REQUIRES almost all of the Texas tests administered here in the state. That won’t go away, Common Core or not. And as I said in my original blog posting, Texas curriculum standards are judged SUPERIOR to the Common Core, particularly in Mathematics, an area that is germane to engineers like yourself. I would hate to see future engineers LESS prepared because of our adoption of standards that might only raise achievement in the lowest performing states – rather than in places like Texas and Massachussetts where reforms and standards are higher. I would also add this: You and I graduated from high school in a different era. Kids are BETTER prepared now in Texas than years ago. Adults who have attempted to take practice versions of the current Texas tests can verify this. So to summarize, I don’t think there is anyway that adoption of the Common Core will stop “teaching to the test” or produce superior graduates in Texas.

  7. 10 Dave Mundy April 23, 2014 at 3:39 am

    Kudos to Dr. Kelly for speaking out like this. It’s great to see a superintendent who gets it. The question is, will Pearland be withdrawing from TASA and TASB — since both those organizations promote Common Core and the elimination of elected school boards?

    • 11 Dr. John P. Kelly April 23, 2014 at 9:25 am

      Dave: I appreciate your comments. I receive daily information from TASA and probably hear from TASB on a monthly basis. Overall, both TASB and TASA provide outstanding services to school districts. But I was unaware they actually support Common Core. That would be most disappointing. I would think they realize that a vast number of trustees and administrators in Texas (both those informed and those who look into it) would certainly agree that substituting watered down standards for Texas curriculum is a giant and extremely costly mistake. And I know that both TASB and TASA lament the loss of local control that comes from these types of federal intrusions. The main point I take from your comment is this: There are likely individuals and organizations supporting Common Core and other federal mandates/initiatives without realizing the price tag or the loss of local control in so doing. The federal government’s most common technique for forcing compliance is to wave money in front of states/school districts essentially telling us that if we want it, we need to play ball. Once that money is accepted, more and more dictates accompany it with each succeeding year.

  8. 12 Amy Wimberly April 22, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Perfect example of why our forefathers set up the constitution to LIMIT the GOVERNMENT!!! It’s a slow fade and you’re right America is letting it happen because people are uneducated on how the government is run and don’t and won’t realize it till it’s too late. Welcome to the new America, sad but true. Thank GOD I know is in ultimate control, my father in heaven!

  9. 13 Lynn Thatp April 22, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Thank you.

  10. 14 Dale E. Pillow April 22, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Thank you, Dr. Kelly, for being willing to speak out about the federal intrusion into our local school system.

  11. 15 Kerri Ishimura April 22, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Good article. I am particularly thankful that PISD has not adopted C-Scope standards either. Of course, C-Scope is a thinly veiled Common Core. Carne Duncan, based on things I’ve read, has done little to nothing for students in the U.S. and the Dept. Of Education really should be abolished.

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