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Optional Handout #4C:
FEDERALISM AND THE DEBATE OVER A PROPOSAL FOR A NATIONAL SCHOOL TEST

Directions:
You have been assigned to consider how the debate over a national standards test illustrates controversy over federalism.

The other members of your group are:



Decide as a group who will have each of the following roles:

  • Discussion leader: This person will make sure that the group discussion is focused, and that all students are involved in the discussion and can contribute ideas.

  • Note taker: This person will be sure to record all ideas legibly.

  • Timekeeper: You have 15 minutes to complete this handout with your group and to prepare your presentation. The timekeeper should be sure to keep the work on schedule. He or she should also help the presenter stay on track for time.

  • Presenter: After your group discusses your answers, the presenter should be ready to give a three- to four-minute presentation about your group's decision.

NOTE: If your group has more than four students, you may add a second presenter and/or an artist to provide a visual aide for the spoken presentation.

After you have identified students to take each of these roles, read the information provided and answer the questions together as a group. At the end of your discussion, your group will present its findings to the class in a three- to four-minute presentation.

Two former secretaries of education, William Bennett and Rod Paige, have recently suggested an unusual solution to the nation's educational crisis. They recommended a national school test to respond to growing fears about the country's inability to close existing achievement gaps. Concerns about the nation's educational system have been mounting since the Commission on Excellence in Education issued a report in 1983 finding that American students are "at risk." The belief is that national standards, testing, and increased school accountability will address these concerns, while still allowing states to choose how funds are allocated, methods of instruction, etc.

President George W. Bush attempted to increase educational responsibility, while retaining state power, through the national No Child Left Behind Act. Under this legislation, passed in 2002, states create their own statewide tests and methods of accountability.

Opponents contend that the present state-run educational system is failing. Under No Child Left Behind, states set standards for measuring student achievement. For example, Tennessee reported that 87 percent of its fourth graders were reading at a "proficient level," but some argue that the state has set very low standards, under which students seem to be doing better than they actually are. With a national test, there would be more consistent standards throughout the country and states will have to improve evaluations and teaching to meet the national standard.

Questions to Consider

Answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper. The group should also take notes on the newsprint that has been provided.

1.) Provide a brief summary of the issue.

2.) Explain how the concept of federalism is evident in this issue.

3.) Look again at Handout #1: Federalism Classification Activity.

  • What do you think are the best arguments for states to make about their power to make and enforce their own laws related to this issue?

  • What do you think are the best arguments for the federal government to make about how its powers apply in this issue?

4.) What position would you take on this issue? Is it the right of the federal or state governments to make a decision on this issue? Why?

5.) What do you think the Supreme Court would decide if it heard this case?


Produced by Thirteen/WNET New York Funded by New York Life