There is no panacea to create national standards for schools, which the Obama administration is hot to do. In fact, the odds are strongly against devising standards that would ensure that children from Los Angeles to Dallas to Boston are ready for a demanding economy.
Teachers unions, for one, are capable of diluting any eventual standards, turning them into the educational equivalent of Jell-O. So when Gov. Rick Perry says he doesn't want Texas locked into a set of national standards, we understand his point.
What we don't get is why Texas wouldn't at least be part of the discussion about creating those standards. Texas has long pursued demanding benchmarks, including during the last Legislature, when Perry did yeoman's work in pushing for higher goals.
Why take a back seat in this national discussion, as the governor advocates? Why not get into the mix and help generate the kind of standards that get American schoolchildren ready for a highly skilled world? If Texas officials ultimately aren't satisfied with the final product, that's when they should back out.
We bring this up because the state has until Jan. 19 to file its proposal for funds the Obama administration has set aside to reward states for improving schools. The administration will hand out $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds to states based on a few categories, including whether they participate in creating national standards.
Perry wants Texas to ignore that part of the application. Instead, he'd rather focus our state's pitch on other benchmarks Education Secretary Arne Duncan is considering, such as whether states have effective teachers.
The problem is that ignoring the national standards segment could cost us. As The Dallas Morning News recently reported, "Texas' decision to forgo national standards deprives the state of at least 40 of the possible 500 points in the application process for the federal money."
This would be like running a marathon wearing ankle weights. Why put ourselves at such a disadvantage? The logical outcome is that Texas loses its possible share to other states. We fail to see the wisdom in that.
We know Perry feels strongly about this. His education commissioner, Robert Scott, warns, "This effort can be seen as a step toward a federal takeover of the nation's public schools."
No one should want that. If national standards were established, we would hope they came with a clear understanding that local districts remain the driving force in public education. The thing is, Texas forfeits any ability to make that point if it simply stays out of the conversation.
Clearly, Texas could protect its interests by participating. Given its history in crafting its own standards, it also could be a driving force for making them as demanding as possible.
And none of that happens if the state sits on the sideline, which is why Perry should rethink his opposition. He's running for re-election based, at least in part, on what's wrong with Washington's leadership. This is one time that being pragmatic would allow Texas to lead Washington.
—The Dallas Morning News