Common National Standards Not the Right Fix For Our Schools

Common national standards are not the right fix for our public schools, so said Jay Greene in his testimony before the US House Subcommittee on Early Education, Elementary, and Secondary Education. Jay has provided his written testimony on his blog here.

Jay says that the assumption underlying the push for common national standards is bogus:

“There is a large effort underway to change educational standards, curriculum, and assessments by centralizing the process. This effort is based on the belief that we will get more rigorous standards and better student outcomes if standards, curriculum, and assessments are determined, or at least coordinated, at the national level. It began with the use of Race to the Top to push states to adopt the Common Core standards, but will also require national curriculum and assessments to be fully implemented.

I believe this centralized approach is mistaken. The best way to produce high academic standards and better student learning is by decentralizing the process of determining standards, curriculum, and assessments. When we have choice and competition among different sets of standards, curricula, and assessments, they tend to improve in quality to better suit student needs and result in better outcomes.

One thing that should be understood with respect to nationalized approaches is that there is no evidence that countries that have nationalized systems get better results. Advocates for nationalization will point to other countries, such as Singapore, with higher achievement that also have a nationalized system as proof that we should do the same. But they fail to acknowledge that many countries that do worse than the United States on international tests also have nationalized systems. Conversely, many of the countries that do better than the United States, such as Canada, Australia, and Belgium, have decentralized systems. The research shows little or no relationship between nationalized approaches and student achievement.”

Cherry picking success stories is a common practice in the education establishment, so the fact that the assumptions and “facts” cited by those advocating common national standards are bogus shouldn’t surprise anyone. There is a multi-billion dollar textbook publishing and assessment business at stake here, and when you’re talking that sort of money, facts and reality are often cast aside in favor of profits, even if those profits come at the expense of our children’s education.

Jay notes that there is little evidence that the common standards issued to date for Math and English meet the “rigorous” standard we’ve been promised and in some instances fail to meet general admission requirements for many state Colleges and Universities – yet they are supposed to be “college or career ready”. Worse we’re developing a national set of more rigorous standards and assessments that are controlled by people who have a vested interest in showing our educational system in a positive light. How can you independently assess something when your jobs depends on that assessment showing a positive result?

And then there’s the one size fits all fallacy.

….we are a large and diverse country. Teaching everyone the same material at the same time and in the same way may work in small homogenous countries, like Finland, but it cannot work in the United States. There is no single best way that would be appropriate for all students in all circumstances.

I do not mean to suggest that math is different in one place than it is in another, but the way in which we can best approach math, the age and sequence in which we introduce material, may vary significantly. As a concrete example, California currently introduces algebra in 8th grade but Common Core calls for this to be done in 9th grade. We don’t really know the best way for all students and it is dangerous to decide this at the national level and impose it on everyone.

One size never fits all.

Jay suggests that a return to decentralized standards and assessments with localities competing for students would go a long way toward improving student learning. He argues that parents will vote with their feet and choose to live in districts with the schools that provide the education they think their children need, and that under performing school districts will forced to adapt to remain competitive.

I respectfully disagree.

I don’t think people have that much control over where they live, especially in times like these where jobs are scarce and property values are so depressed that you can’t afford to move. I also think that under performing school districts will just lie to make themselves look better, which they already do with state controlled testing. Then there’s the whole rich person / poor person conundrum wherein the rich person has the resources to choose to live in better school districts with higher property values while the poor person who lacks those resources will be stuck taking whatever is offered in the area he / she can afford.

I think the real solution lies with giving parents the power and resources to choose which educational program best meets their children’s needs. For far too long parents have been relegated to the bleachers when it comes to their children’s education and it’s time to bring them off the bleachers and onto the field with their children. Parents should be given the power to choose like they had with the DC Opportunity Scholarship program rather than forcing them to accept whatever schools are available in the area near their job where they can afford to live. Schools would be accountable to their students’ parents rather than elected bodies they can sway with misleading presentations and omitted facts. And it’s a lot easier to move your child to a different school than it is to move to a different neighborhood.

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One Response to “Common National Standards Not the Right Fix For Our Schools”

  1. Common National Standards Not the … – PWC Education Reform Blog | Education Says:

    […] post: Common National Standards Not the … – PWC Education Reform Blog Posted in National Education Tags: bcommittee-on-early, before-the, elementary, for-our, […]


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