Today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled the regulatory guidelines for his so-called “Race to the Top” Fund, the administration’s $4.3 billion incentive fund for state reforms. Like previous federal education reform efforts, including No Child Left Behind, American parents should be skeptical that new federal incentives will really encourage the kind of reforms that American students urgently need.

For starters, it’s naïve to think that $4 billion in funding will provide a real incentive that will have transformative effect on the $600 billion elementary and secondary education sector.This is particularly true given the fact that the federal government recently doled out roughly $70 billion in new funding for K-12 programs through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It has been a pattern for recent administrations to overreach in the kind of change they think is possible from Washington. It’s likely that this newest effort will also disappoint.

We should also be concerned about what Secretary Duncan is trying to incentive with the “Race to the Top” funding. Writing in the Washington Post, Sec. Duncan listed “working toward common, internationally benchmarked standards” as his top requirement for states to win “race to the top” funding.

This move is a first-step toward the federal government creating national standards for the states.

Given the dramatic changes in American government that we have witnessed over the past year, it may not seem surprising to see Washington aim to take responsibility for setting academic standards for American schools. But parents should we wary of the potential dangers of national standards—including the great risk that common standards will be poorly-executed and overly politicized.

American education surely needs a “race to the top,” but four decades of experience suggests the federal government is poorly positioned to encourage the types of reforms American students deserve.