Dear Moms and Dads: Big Brother Is About to Join the Family

Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building in Washington, DC (photo credit: IIP Photo Archive via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building in Washington, DC (photo credit: IIP Photo Archive via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump are making noise against the Common Core and the Democrats’ support for it. But have they looked at the gift the GOP-controlled Congress just gave the progressive movement? The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) just laid the groundwork for a federal takeover of basic, deeply personal functions of the family.

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan is excited about the many gifts the Republican Congress tucked into the Every Student Succeeds Act (see here and here to learn how your House member and senators voted). Among the bill’s progressive delights is the expansion of government schools and other organizations to usurp parents’ rights and responsibilities in practically every aspect of their children’s lives.

Duncan is a fan of schools’ mission creep: “I think our schools should be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day,” he said in a 2010 interview. “It’s not just lengthening the school day, but offering a wide variety of after-school activities: drama, arts, sports, chess, debate, academic enrichment, programs for parents, GED, ESL, family literacy nights, potluck dinners.”

With ESSA’s programs to promote “21st-century community learning centers” and “full-service community schools,” Duncan gets his wish and more. These programs are designed to replace parents, family, church, and other private associations with the suffocating ministrations of all-wise, all-powerful Government.

Take first the 21st-century community learning centers (CLCs). The purpose of a CLC (which may be either a school, community organization, or “another public or private entity”) is to offer tutoring and a “broad array of additional services, programs, and activities . . . .” Such as? “[Y]outh development activities, service learning, nutrition and health education, drug and violence prevention programs, counseling programs, arts, music, physical fitness and wellness programs, [and] environmental literacy programs . . . .” (p. 489). Since parents are obviously incapable of arranging piano lessons or making their kids put down that candy bar, and may not be inclined to teach them about global warming, the government is there to fill the void.

For high-school students, ESSA sounds the incessant drumbeat of workforce-development: CLC offerings should include “career and technical programs, internship or apprenticeship programs, and other ties to an in-demand industry sector or occupation . . .” (p. 489). This provision is a payoff to crony corporations that are eager for schools to provide them workers they won’t have to train. Isn’t that the point of education?

Of course, all of this requires collecting and tracking student data, and lots of it (p. 517). Propaganda from one pro-CLC outfit gives an example of how this data will be used:

The dashboard uploads student data from the school system database, and then program coordinators add data about the services that each student currently receives. The coordinators then match students with the additional services they need based on an analysis of gaps between student performance and behavior on the one hand and received services on the other. If a student fails the state math tests, for example, the student is flagged in the system, and the coordinator matches the student with a math tutor. If a student has trouble getting to school on time, a match is made with a social worker to support to [sic] the family.

To be sure, this Big Brother tracking will be accomplished with a nod toward parents, whom the government generously includes as one of numerous “stakeholders” in children’s education (p. 497). But the government’s idea of involving parents manages to diminish their authority while enhancing government’s. The “parental engagement” provisions of ESSA merit a separate discussion (coming soon).

Later in ESSA, beginning at p. 590, are the provisions about full-service community schools (FSCSs). These provisions are geared toward but not limited to high-poverty schools. An FSCS is one that “participates in a community-based effort to coordinate and integrate educational, developmental, family, health, and other comprehensive services through community-based organizations and public and private partnerships . . . .”

These services are appropriately dubbed “pipeline services” (because our children are products in a pipeline) and comprise “a continuum of coordinated supports, services, and opportunities for children from birth through entry into and success in postsecondary education, and career attainment” (p. 600). The baby in the hospital bassinet will already be marked for pipeline services to shepherd him to his eventual government-approved career.

Even more concerning, these services should include “social . . . and mental health services and supports” (p. 600). Parents should feel a chill at the realization that government will now be monitoring and molding their children’s social development and mental health. And a school applying for FSCS money must perform “a needs assessment that identifies the academic, physical, nonacademic, health, mental health, and other needs of students, families, and community residents” (p. 616). So in an FSCS neighborhood, not only innocent schoolchildren but all their relatives and neighbors are at risk of having their “mental health” evaluated by government snoops.

Some of this alarming work will be accomplished through “Promise Neighborhoods,” a program created by the Administration in 2010 to provide a “comprehensive, effective continuum of coordinated services” to low-income neighborhoods. But now the Republican Congress has enshrined this concept into statutory law.

An entity that wants Promise money must complete a needs assessment of the neighborhood and show how it will train stupid parents “to acquire the skills to promote early learning and child development” and how it will provid[e] social, health, nutrition, and mental health services and supports for children, family members, and community members” (p. 616). If you are unfortunate enough to live in a Promise Neighborhood, the “promise” may be more of a threat.

And once again, ESSA mandates collection of data, data, and more data. Applicants for the government money must show how they “will collect data on children served by each pipeline service” (p. 608). Now that the Obama administration has gutted federal student-privacy law, government bureaucrats can analyze and disseminate increasing reams of highly personal student information.

This breathtaking expansion of government authority over the heretofore private lives of children and their families demonstrates an almost childlike faith in the long-disproven power of government programs to improve things. Although bureaucrats would be hard-pressed to name any government education program that has actually solved problems, if not actually made matters worse, hope springs eternal.

But it’s worse than that. How could this monumental piece of statist garbage have been passed by a Republican Congress? Even a moderately conservative politician who skimmed this bill should have tossed it in the trash on his way to vote ‘No.’ But most did not – they bought into the propaganda without engaging their brains or applying their principles. What a thoughtful going-away present for Arne Duncan. Yes, our children and our Constitution had to be sacrificed for it, but the important thing was to take the vote and get out of town for the holidays. From the GOP Congress to you and your children: Happy New Year.

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.