Crouch summarized my position on content standards like this: “Shuls of the Show-Me Institute would prefer parents and schools to set their own standards, rather than states.” She also quoted me as saying, “Ultimately, there’s absolutely no evidence that content standards improve education.” Both of these are true, but they deserve a little more explanation. In this post, I will address the evidence on content standards.
Proponents of national standards often point to some of the top-performing countries and note that they have national standards. These proponents often fail to point out that some countries that perform better than us do not have national standards and many who perform worse than us do have national standards. We could just as easily point to those countries at the bottom and say, “look, national standards don’t work.”
Even at the state level, the evidence that rigorous standards improve student achievement is very weak. The Fordham Institute, one of the biggest supporters of the Common Core, has issued grades for state standards for some time now. Using these grades, the Brookings Institution examined the correlation between the rigor of each state’s standards and performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The authors concluded that there is no relationship between standards and performance. Moreover, they predict that the Common Core will have very little impact on student achievement:
What effect will the Common Core have on national achievement? The analysis presented here suggests very little impact. The quality of the Common Core standards is currently being hotly debated, but the quality of past curriculum standards has been unrelated to achievement. The rigor of performance standards — how high the bar is set for proficiency — has also been unrelated to achievement.
Believing that rigorous standards will increase student achievement may be a fine theory, but it simply has not panned out in practice. There are several reasons for this, which I will address in my next post. I will also explain why I think parents and schools could do a better job of setting standards than the government.