Chester E. Finn Jr. on the Common Core Standards
Chester E. Finn Jr. is trying to convince conservatives to support the Common Core Standards. Although I don’t know whether he intended to include free-market bloggers in his audience, I’d like to go over his points and consider whether anyone conservative or not should be swayed by them. Here are quotes from his five arguments, with my responses:
First, they’re good, solid — indeed very ambitious — academic standards for primary and secondary schooling, at least in the two essential subjects of English and math. Students who attained them would be better off — readier for college, readier to get good jobs, readier to compete in the global economy — than most are today.
Students might be better prepared if they attained these standards, but it’s not clear that adopting the standards would achieve that result. Adopting standards on paper doesn’t, by itself, bring students up to a high academic level. In fact, the more ambitious the standards are, the less likely it is that U.S. students could meet them unless more significant changes were made to the public school system.
Second, they respect basic skills, mathematical computation, the conventions of the English language, good literature, and America’s founding documents.
This is faint praise. It would be pretty pathetic if the standards made fun of America’s founding documents. Nor is this a reason for states to agree to the standards. Anyone can have respect for basic skills and literature without uniform standards.
Third, they emerged not from the federal government but from a voluntary coming together of (most) states, and the states’ decision whether or not to adopt them will remain voluntary. Each state will determine whether the new standards represent an improvement over what it’s now using.
If states fail to adopt the standards, they lose their chance to receive some kinds of federal funding. The federal government approves of these standards and is using its power to get states to agree to them. That’s enough evidence that the federal government is imposing the standards on states. Where the standards originally “emerged” from is irrelevant.
Fourth, they do not represent a national curriculum — though to gain traction they’ll need to be joined by solid curricula, effective instruction, and quality testing.
In other words, if states adopt the standards, a national curriculum is sure to follow. For what would be the point of standards that don’t “gain traction”?
Fifth, one little-noted benefit of properly implemented common standards is a better-functioning education marketplace, in which parents will be able to make choices about schools on the basis of more accurate information about how school A’s performance compares with that of school B — not just within communities and states but also when considering a move from state to state. Entrepreneurial school operators (such as KIPP and Edison) will also be better able to gauge and manage school performance in locations across the land.
Give me a break. It’s the old “standards will help the charter schools” argument. I don’t know how standards alone could give people more information about their limited educational choices — unless states also agreed to tests that match the standards, and then published the scores. Sounds like No Child Left Behind all over again.