The Corner

Why Does the Common Core Need to Be Common?

Every school system in the U.S. should have rigorous standards. But must they have the same standards? We can endlessly debate the quality of the Common Core, but surely no single standard works best for every type of student in every type of school. I noted last week that arguments for a uniform standard seem rather weak. Nevertheless, Bill Keller of the New York Times devoted some column space this week to one such argument:

The Core does call for schools across the states to deliver their lessons in the same sequence. Does it really matter if children in Alabama and New Jersey start algebra in the same grade? It matters a lot to a kid who moves from Alabama to New Jersey. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 13 percent of children under 18 move each year, and the numbers are much higher for low-income, military and immigrant families.

 Many of them lose their place in the educational order and never recover.

This argument for national standards is an illustration of how politicians recommend more centralization as a way to fix problems caused by centralization. The public-school monopoly is what limits choice and creates the potential curriculum conflict. If parents had adequate choices in the first place, then interstate migration would not pose a major problem — parents could likely just choose a school in New Jersey whose curriculum is most similar to the child’s previous school in Alabama.

Why this focus on the seemingly minor issue of moving between states? Perhaps because evidence-based arguments for uniform standards are hard to come by. It’s true that some countries with national standards outperform the U.S. on international tests, but counter-examples abound. There are so many intervening variables involved in cross-country comparisons that simply correlating international test scores with the presence of national standards tells us little.

In this age of data-driven education reform, where is the hard evidence justifying the “Common” in “Common Core”?


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