National Standards Nonsense Redux

The revised set of proposed national standards were released last week.  I don’t know what else to write about this without sounding like a  broken record.  The bottom line is that this is a really dangerous movement that is receiving support from some people who should know better.

As we’ve already pointed out at JPGB, there is nothing voluntary about these national standards.  Neal McCluskey over at Cato has also made this same point numerous times.  The federal government requires that states commit to adopting the national standards as a condition of applying for Race to the Top Funds.  And the Obama administration is floating the idea of making state adoption of these national standards a requirement for Title I or other federal funds.  So, the national standards are “voluntary” in the sense that states can choose not to do it as long as they don’t mind letting the federal government hand out the tax dollars their residents pay to residents of other states but not to them.

We’ve also pointed out numerous times that many credible people have raised strong concerns about the rigor and soundness of the proposed national standards (here, here, here, and here).  The Fordham Foundation has given passing grades to the proposed standards, but frankly it is not particularly persuasive to gather a group of your like-minded friends experts and ask them to give grades to something you favor — especially if the grades given by the experts might be changed if they are at odds with Fordham’s predisposition.

But perhaps the strongest objection to national standards that we have repeated at JPGB (here, here, and here) is that even if the current set of proposed national standards is an improvement for some states (and less good than others), there is strong reason to fear that people opposed to sensible, rigorous standards will gain control over the newly created national standards infrastructure and be in a position to impose their nonsense on everyone.  Remember that teacher unions, ed schools, and other opponents of tough standards that might expose the shortcomings of schools and teachers are much better organized and politically powerful than anyone else in education politics.  Over time they will gain control of the machinery of national standards even if they do not control it now.

None of the reasons typically given for national standards is compelling.  As I’ve written before,  “We don’t need national standards to prevent states from dumbing down their own standards. We already have a national test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered by the U.S. Department of Education, to show how states are performing on a common yardstick and to shame those that set the bar too low. Illinois, for example, isn’t fooling anyone when it says that 82% of its 8th graders are proficient in reading because according to NAEP only 30% are proficient. The beauty of NAEP is that it provides information without forcing conformity to a single, national curriculum.”

And to repeat myself some more: “Nor is it the case that adopting national standards would close the achievement gap between the U.S. and our leading economic competitors. Yes, many of the countries that best us on international tests have national standards, but so do many of the countries that lag behind us. If there really were one true way to educate all children, why stop at national standards? Why not have global standards with a global curriculum?

We would oppose global standards for the same reasons we should oppose national standards. Making education uniform at too high of a level of aggregation ignores the diversity of needs of our children as well as the diversity of opinion about how best to serve those needs. And giving people at the national or global level the power to determine what everyone should learn is dangerous because they will someday use that power to promote unproductive or even harmful ideas.”

I’ve never seen any of the advocates of national standards adequately address any of these objections.  Until they do I guess I’ll just have to keep repeating myself.

18 Responses to National Standards Nonsense Redux

  1. Greg Forster says:

    I’ve never seen any of the advocates of national standards adequately address any of these objections.

    Off the top of my head, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them address these objections at all, never mind “adequately.”

  2. GGW says:

    I have a question.

    You write: “Remember that teacher unions, ed schools, and other opponents of tough standards that might expose the shortcomings of schools and teachers are much better organized and politically powerful than anyone else in education politics. Over time they will gain control of the machinery of national standards even if they do not control it now.”

    If national standards indeed go through, do you predict the unions and Ed Schools will exert more or less control than they do right now, on average, of the 50 states’ standards?

  3. GGW says:

    You have a point on the “voluntary” nature. It’s certainly coercive. But to what extent?

    “We have a program that gives tons of money. 96% of that is no strings attached, to waste in your normal way. 4% requires you to do a bunch of things, which you can choose to reject.”

    Isn’t that a reasonable representation of the education stimulus?

  4. Hi Gary,

    The Edublob also dominates the 50 state standards, but the existence of choice and competition places a constraint on the mischief that such control enables. In general, you can’t do away with the political power of the Edublob but you can create systems where market power has more influence and political power has less influence.

    The false conceit of national standards is the belief that you can centralize and enhance the opportunity for political control over schools without that control being seized by the most powerful and well-organized political forces in education.

  5. And Gary, as to your point on coercion… The Feds are suggesting (and many state officials believe) that Title I money will be conditioned on acceptance of national standards. Title I is the largest chunk of federal spending and is certainly enough money to force states to do what the feds want.

    Imagine if we told Coke that they would lose 5% of their revenue if they didn’t make all bottles recyclable. I guarantee you that 5% is enough to get them to make big changes even if they didn’t really want to. Of course, you could frame it as they get to keep 95% of their money no matter what, but that fails to capture the reality of the situation.

  6. GGW says:

    Thanks for your replies. I didn’t know that Title 1 would be conditioned on the national standards. I thought it was just RTTP eligibility, that small slice. Yes, if true, I agree that tying all of a state’s T1 money to national standards would hardly be “voluntary.”

  7. Well, the Obama administration has not linked Title I to national standards yet, but the idea is being circulated and many state officials are motivated by a belief that it will happen.

  8. concerned says:

    From Chester

    “Yesterday (Feb 22), the President declared that future Title I funding for a state should hinge on whether it has embraced the new standards and assessments. And more.”

    Guess we’d better pay attention!

  9. Great stuff, Jay!

    All I’ve got to add to this conversation is that it does not appear to be the federal percentage of funding, but just dollar amounts, that matter. Turning down hundreds of millions of dollars, even if that is but a small percentage of overall funding, is a tough thing for state politicians to do because the numbers typically look so large out of context. It is perhaps even more difficult in bad economic times, though no matter what the economic climate politicians never want to have to expalin why they didn’t grab “free” money.

  10. Greg Forster says:

    One point that hasn’t recieved a response yet:

    Isn’t that a reasonable representation of the education stimulus?

    Yes! And we’re against that, too!

    • concerned says:

      No,it’s not reasonable at all. GGW was discussing the “4% that requires you to do a bunch of things, which you can choose to reject”

      That is exactly the problem. Read it carefully – the small percentage is bait for a process which relinquishes states rights and undermines our representative form of government.

      Whose signatures are required?

  11. GGW says:

    Greg, we agree on the 96% waste part. The $4 billion has created how many tens of thousands of charter school seats? That’s a lot of choice for the money. Not a bad deal.


    Indulge this heresy for a sec before slapping it down:

    I’m toying with notion that national standards would likely activate MORE school choice.

    Bear with me.

    Creates more transparency, which leads to increased discontent with status quo.

    I don’t think NAEP can get it done. Schools don’t get NAEP ratings. Kids don’t get NAEP ratings. NAEP is just Grades 4 and 8.

    The national test results could create increased state by state discontent with even their suburban schools, hopefully leading to more state laws allowing choice.

    • concerned says:

      If the only reason that NAEP couldn’t get it done is because schools, parents, and students don’t receive NAEP ratings, then by all means, make NAEP results available to all.

      That sounds like a great idea! One that is much less expensive and intrusive than undermining state and local control.

      No usable results will be assessed from these weak Common Core standards.

  12. That’s not a ridiculous argument, GGW, but here is the flaw:

    What makes you think that the “good guys” will be able to develop and maintain a rigorous set of standards and assessments that will show how awful the schools are so that people want choice more? The fact that this could embarrass the public school system is precisely why the Edublob will be so motivated to hijack the national standards and assessment process (if they have not done so already). And they are better positioned to take control of national standards and assessment than are choice advocates or other true reformers.

  13. […] saying it puts us on a path to standardizing mediocrity, while the venerable Dr. Jay Greene continues his strong compelling case against Common […]

  14. Greg Forster says:

    That’s also why the blob spent so much time delegitimizing NCLB reports showing schools were failing to teach basic skills to (ahem) certain subgroups. Sometimes they were explicit about this motive and tried to turn it against us (i.e. “NCLB was only created as an excuse to say the schools are failing so the Right could enact vouchers”) which you would think would kind of undermine the credibility of the claim to begin with, but go figure.

  15. Minnesota Kid says:

    Following up on Gary’s point, national standards also could facilitate more school choice because switching schools is less disruptive when both schools teach the same skills in the same grades. That’s one reason why the European countries with lots more school choice than we have (e.g. Holland, Belgium) also have a national curriculum that both public and private schools need to follow. Of course, that means that the schools of choice aren’t able to differentiate themselves based on their curriculum and instead need to focus on pedagogical approach, teacher quality, safety, etc.

  16. Greg Forster says:

    MK, the point of school choice is not just to offer school choice, but to offer school choice. Making all the schools the same would defeat the purpose.

    The European countries you cite are a perfect example. In most of Europe, their superficial “school choice” isn’t meaningful because the government ultimately controls all the schools anyway. It’s like saying we’ll give you restraurant choice so you can eat at any restraurant you want, except we require them all to serve McDonald’s food.

    Whereas in Sweden they have real school choice, because the government doesn’t control the schools.

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