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Across the Street: Mission creep

Joyce Rankin
Across the Street

What’s the fundamental mission of K-12 education? It’s to offer students essential information and knowledge free of charge. At its very basic level, it’s reading, writing and arithmetic. Questions arise. Who makes the decisions and provides the money necessary to carry out the mission. Does this come from the federal government or state government? And who makes the decisions?

Checking with the U.S. Constitution, always an interesting beginning point, we find that the Federal government has no control over education. The responsibility for educating our K-12 students rests with the states — and in Colorado, because of “local control,” more directly with the districts and local schools.

The federal government, through the legislative process, may provide money to the states and schools through grants; however, this money is only to supplement, not replace local programs. There are no unfunded federal education “mandates.” Every federal education law leaves it up to the state/school’s to accept the funding. Any state that does not want to abide by a federal program’s requirements can choose not to accept the associated program’s funding.

While many states, including Colorado, decide to receive funding, as we do through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a few states have decided not to accept any federal funding. Most of the financing, therefore, comes from the states and local government. In Colorado, the curriculum is determined by the local school districts.

So, how do local control, funding, and the fundamental mission of reading, writing and arithmetic intersect? An interesting article in the NY Times stated, “FORGET for the moment why Johnny can’t read. Consider instead why Johnny can’t tell right from wrong.” In other words, should we first be teaching moral values and bring this into the school curriculum? Or does this open up a whole new realm of consideration about what should be taught at school?

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Over the years, we’ve seen “mission creep” or other curricula interjected into the school districts. Some of these include media literacy, social-emotional learning, active shooter drills, mental health training, suicide prevention, sex education, bullying, cultural knowledge, to name a few. Many new programs also have grant money attached, which can make them more desirable.

So, as a taxpayer and community member, is it any wonder why our third graders aren’t all reading at grade level? Could it be that our teachers are overwhelmed with other programs that have distracted them from their fundamental mission; reading, writing and arithmetic?

It continues to be an honor to serve on the State Board of Education. Thank you and have a safe and Merry Christmas!

Joyce Rankin is a member of the State Board of Education. The Department of Education is located across the street from the Capitol. “Across the Street” will appear monthly.


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