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Member Questions of the Week of July 12, 2010

Melissa Duerksen of Mishawaka, IN asks: “I am an educator, and the new national core standards seem like a good thing on the one hand because it simplifies things. What are your thoughts and what does history teach us about this?”
OUR ANSWER: According to Heritage domestic policy experts Lindsey Burke and Jennifer Marshall, national standards won’t fix American education. National standards are likely to result in the standardization of learning, not the establishment of a high bar for excellence. The same pressures that detract from the quality of many state standards — pressures that include the demands of teachers’ unions, pervasive political correctness, and pedagogical and content disputes — are likely to plague national standards as well. “As a result,” Burke and Marshall write, “the rigor and content of national standards will tend to align with the mean among states, undercutting states with higher quality standards.” That means centralized standard-setting will likely result in the standardization of mediocrity.

Even recent history teaches that the federal government is not equipped to administer a national education program. Simply look at the latest mishandling of the Head Start program or the administration’s unwarranted criticisms of the successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The fundamental problem that faces the American education system today is not a variation in state standards, but rather a misalignment of power and incentives. Currently, two major factors exert the most influence on public education: teachers’ unions and funding incentives. Sadly, both introduce motivations that compete with the objective of improving student educational outcomes. National standards do nothing to address these mixed motivations — but they do empower the federal government to create more perverse incentives. Accountability certainly needs to be increased, but we must be careful about how and to whom it is being increased. National standards will increase accountability vertically to Washington, not horizontally to parents and taxpayers. Only school choice can do this, which should be the ultimate goal of effective education reform. To learn more, listen to Burke discuss national standards here.

Gary Foster of Raleigh, NC asks: “Is your membership growing, and, if so, by how much?”

OUR ANSWER: Absolutely! Heritage now boasts more than 671,000 members — or 10,000 more than we had just a few weeks ago. So far in 2010, we’ve added an average of 15,000 unique new members to our rolls each month. The growth really began in 2007, when we launched our 10-year Leadership for America campaign. At the time, Heritage counted 275,000 Americans as paid members. Within a year, Heritage membership grew to more than 300,000, and we became the most broadly-supported public policy organization in the country. Since then, our membership has more than doubled. The accelerated growth in our membership ought to catch the attention of lawmakers who say conservative ideas are archaic or unpopular. As our membership growth demonstrates, the opposite is true: Our message of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom and a strong national defense resonates with Americans all over the country. In fact, traditionally blue states like California, Pennsylvania and New York boast some of our highest membership counts. We want to build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish — and so do many Americans.

Dennis Blaine of Raleigh, NC asks: “What is the legal status of Obama’s health care mandate?”
OUR ANSWER: Two lawsuits against the Obamacare individual mandate have been filed — one by the state of Virginia and the other by a group of twenty attorneys general and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The federal government has moved to dismiss both of them. Last week, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued against the federal government’s motion to dismiss Virginia’s case. After the motion hearing, Cuccinelli told Heritage in an exclusive interview that he is optimistic the district court judge will deny the federal government’s motion. “On balance, I think that we were better off by the end of the day,” Cuccinelli said. If the case is not dismissed, a judge on October 18 will hear arguments on the motion for a summary judgment. Cuccinelli hopes the case ultimately ends up before the Supreme Court — and because the other suit filed by the attorneys general and the NFIB was filed in a different federal district, it’s likely that it will.

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