In late July, the Department of Education held a reading event as part of it’s “Let’s read! Let’s move!” initiative. During the event, D.C. schoolchildren were given free copies of SpongeBob Goes Green, a book based on the Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants. According to the publishers:

SpongeBob decides to speed up the warm weather by pumping carbon dioxide into the environment. Little does SpongeBob know, he’s messing with Mother Nature in a big way and bringing global warming to Bikini Bottom! Soon it’s sweltering hot, and everyone has to pack up and move. Can SpongeBob reverse Global Warming and save the Bikini Bottom? Will he learn his lesson and start respecting Mother Nature?

SpongeBob SquarePants might “live in a pineapple under the sea,” but he’s giving us an important reminder of why the federal government shouldn’t be involved in school curriculum.

That’s not a lesson the Department of Education has picked up on, regrettably. Since spring 2009, the Obama Administration has been backing efforts by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to push states to adopt national standards and tests.

Last week, The Heritage Foundation and the Pioneer Institute of Massachusetts hosted an event outlining the dangers of national standards and tests. Robert Scott, the Texas Commissioner of Education, stressed many of the problems with the push:

There’s a section [of the proposed standards] called “modeling.” … The only discernable standard I could find was: “The student will be able to use graphs, for example, graphs of Co2 emissions and global temperatures over time.” The joke was “What do we call this class? Do we call it ‘Global Warming Math’?” And the one that stuck was “Al-Gore-ithms.”

Ze’ev Wurman, an official evaluator for the proposed math standards, remarked that one of their biggest shortcomings was that they do not expect students to take algebra by eighth grade:

The big problem with the standards—where they really fail—is that prior to them, many of our states tried to emulate what our major competitors do. And they tried to teach, more and more, algebra by grade eight. And that was a push over the last decade; a lot of states made large progress.… The Common Core standards gave up on it, silently. There was no discussion, no public debate. They just said, “We don’t care about it.”

[The Common Core State Standards] did not build on California. They did not build on Massachusetts or Singapore or Korea or Japan. Some of it came just from these three people, sitting in a back room, and thinking, “What’s doable?”

Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas said that the standards push is founded on a “seductive argument based on slippery logic”:

There was no reason to expect them to be much better since many of the same education experts and organizations…that helped to develop those poor to mediocre state standards in math and English language arts also helped the Council of Chief State School Officers to develop Common Core standards. It’s from the same people who had already developed state standards.

Conversely, Stotsky notes, the two examples of rigorous state standards—California and Massachusetts—were developed by academic experts, not pedagogical experts. None of these academic experts, Stotsky notes, were asked to help craft the Common Core writing standards.

So if the content leaves much to be desired, why did a majority of states agree to their adoption? Ted Rebarber, CEO of AccountabilityWorks, argued that the Department of Education, which has the third largest discretionary budget in the federal government, “can use that power, when states are economically weakened, to push these standards.”

But there is still hope. Bill Evers of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University noted that it’s not too late to reverse course. Evers has crafted a manifesto, “Closing the Door on Innovation,” which includes more than 150 signatories arguing against the Common Core.

For nearly five decades, Washington’s role in education has been growing at a tremendous pace. At the same time, educational achievement has remained flat. By pushing states to adopt national standards and tests to define and measure what every public school child in American should know, the Obama Administration is continuing this federal failure.

The entire event: National Standards and Tests: An Unprecedented Federal Overreach, can be viewed here.

A short video on the federal role in education is below: