5.28.11 -- Politico.com
A ‘Common’ Education Disaster
By DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN & ANNIE HSIAO
Education standards are hot. The hottest are the Common Core Standards –- cooperatively-developed standards for k-12 English and Mathematics classes. Sadly, this voluntary movement is being distorted into a sweeping federal centralization and control of what students learn.
Reflecting the growing popularity, standards-based reform is now the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s education agenda. The President’s Blueprint for Reform – his top four priorities for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – begins by “calling on all states to develop and adopt standards in English language arts and mathematics.”
But not just any standards, it turns out. The administration has chosen to sanction precisely the same Common Core Standards.
For example, it tied $4.35 billion of the Race to the Top federal funding to their adoption – even before they were finalized. On top of that, it is already funding – to the tune of $345 million – two consortia to develop assessments, instructional materials, and professional development based specifically on the Common Core Standards – perilously close to a de facto curriculum.
In short: voluntary out; coercion in. Federal control up; local control down.
That would be fine if international evidence showed that national standards and curriculum improved global competitiveness. High-performing countries with national curriculum, like Finland and South Korea, are more homogenous than the United States — which is poorly suited for a sweeping one-size-fits-all centralization of educational content.
Moreover, even those countries preserve local flexibility. Most national curricula highlight a few key topics, and permit teachers to develop the content to address them.
Usurping local control from states and districts is an unprecedented overreach by the federal government into education. It robs schools of the freedom of flexibility and opportunity for innovation.
Perhaps most important, once the feds take over who gets to decide what the curriculum and standards look like? Dense concentration of decision-making could lead to special-interests groups driving the agenda for their interest, not the students’.
The federalization of the Common Core Standards has provoked an outcry from a bipartisan group of leading education reformers. They released a letter reminding the nation that there is no constitutional authority for a national curriculum. In addition, there is no evidence demonstrating that national standards improve educational outcomes, or a track record showing that the Common Core Standards are rigorous and first-rate.
The latter point brings the debate full circle. Yes, standards are a good idea. But critics of the Common Core Standards include five dissenters of the Common Core Validation Committee, some of the most internationally reputable standards experts.
They argue that these English language arts standards for grades six to 12 do not reflect knowledge needed for college-level work and that the standards themselves are unclear and ambiguous. Though proponents of these standards claim they have been informed by research, no research was ever provided.
Similarly, in math, the standards were found to be poorly organized, lowered expectations for college-readiness, were confusing and focused on low-level mathematics.
National standards are a bad idea. Nationalization of the wrong standards is even worse.
Education reform is a serious issue. Too serious to let the administration’s penchant for education pork-barreling lead America’s students down the disastrous path of federal curriculum micromanagement, and the overthrow of local school boards, districts — and ultimately parents.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin served as a director of the Congressional Budget Office. He is now president of the American Action Forum. Annie Hsiao is the director of education policy at American Action Forum.