The Corner

Choices to Make

Andrew Coulson:

NRO’s Ramesh Ponnuru has written a series of interesting posts on the debate between those who believe education reformers should focus on improving the curriculum in the government schools and those who advocate focusing on free market reforms. He agrees with Jay Greene that the two approaches are compatible and should be pursued in tandem, and questions Sol Stern for wishing to emphasize curriculum reform over market reform.

But there is some equivocation going on here. Most “instructionists” are not simply advocating improving the curricula in place in our existing state school systems. Most are in fact campaigning for national standards and testing, as former Republican education secretaries Bill Bennett and Rod Paige did here, or for a full-blown national curriculum, as their erstwhile colleague Diane Ravitch has done for more than a decade.

More central planning is not better than less central planning.  . . .

I am skeptical of national standards for the same reasons that Coulson is. But I find Chester Finn’s idea of a “swap” promising. The idea is that the feds would hold states accountable for meeting certain results–getting most students to pass a national test, for example–but also stop micromanaging how the states went about reaching those results. Such a swap would be no more offensive to federalist or small-government principles than the status quo, and it might work better.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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