A lot of ruckus has recently been made around a series of educational standards known as Common Core. Indiana scrapped Common Core standards a couple of weeks ago, and other states very well might follow suit. Some Common Core math questions (see here and here) have garnered attention because of their ridiculousness. A mother in Sacramento was suspended by the Sacramento school district because she disagreed with Common Core standards. What is it about Common Core that is causing such annoyance?
Common Core is a an education initiative dealing with curriculum standards, uniform testing requirements, and teacher training promoted by the National Governors Association, as well as the Obama administration, that have been adopted by 45 states to improve upon academic achievement. The finalized standards were released in 2010, but have only recently begun the implementation stage. Much like with the overhaul of healthcare with Obamacare, I find that Common Core is trying to tackle too much at once. It's no wonder that the head of the National Educators Association, the largest teacher's union in the country, has labeled the beginnings of Common Core as a "botched implementation." Good things can have a rocky start, and I'm not one who is opposed to having standards in our education system. Children should know how to read and do arithmetic. Even with that being said, I still think that Common Core standards are not going to work. Why?
Standards might be a series of expectations, but the purpose of these standards is to drive curriculum (e.g., federal funding tied to standards). Although children require certain skills and knowledge to succeed in the world, the truth is that each child learns differently. A top-down approach for something as individualized as one's learning is tomfoolery. If states are "laboratories of democracy," then the standards and implementation thereof should be done on as localized of a level as possible.
There is no meaningful empirical evidence that national curriculum standards lead to superior educational quality. Tom Loveless, an education expert at the centrist Brookings Institution, points out in a recent progress report that Common Core standards are not projected to have any significant impact on student performance. Are children really that homogenous that a single set of standards works? Is the federal government so omniscient where it would know how to implement a one-size-fits-all solution? Teachers and parents, the very people who most are involved in the child's education, should have the most say, not some bureaucratic entity in Washington D.C. Teachers and parents need the adaptability to provide educational success to their children, and not be tied down to a static list of standards.
More to the point, this would not be the first time that the federal government has attempted to standardize education in such a manner. Head Start, which is the government's attempt to control pre-K education, has been a failure. No Child Left Behind also managed to leave many children behind, hence the reason why the government is giving it another go with Common Core.
I am worried about other factors concerning Common Core, such as the rendering of textbooks obsolete that will cause an expensive overhaul, teachers who will leave the field because they will feel too constrained by Common Core standards or will not be able to keep up with the standards, online testing that would trigger an overhaul in technology, an overvaluing of standardized tests that will lead teachers to "teach the standardized tests" instead of teaching children how to learn, the latter of which is hard to teach if children are being forced into homogeneous thinking.
If we want to compare children's academic abilities across state borders, we already have the ACT, SAT, GRE, and advanced placement examinations. If there is an issue with standardized testing, we should modify what's already in existence and not have the federal government intervene. Common Core is, at best, a distraction from what America needs to do to improve its quality of education. Adopting standards is no substitute for actually dealing with the woes of our school system. If we are serious about education reform, we should discuss different policy alternatives, such as expanding school choice and improving upon teacher evaluations. Until we seriously entertain the merits of policies that can actually work, bureaucrats at Washington are diluting themselves if they think federally-induced standards are going to make American children more educated.