Mike Petrilli seems concerned that I haven’t answered his questions about how to address certain problems without resorting to federally-imposed national standards. I thought I had. I said: “The answer is not to have bigger, more centralized regulations. The answer is to maintain the proper incentives by empowering market forces, which also serve to keep the regulatory framework honest.”
I also thought I answered his questions when I said:
Even though it is messy and imperfect, we need to decentralize power in education rather than centralize it. We need to do so for the same reason the Constitution decentralizes power — to prevent abuses and tyranny that inevitably arise when power is unchecked and concentrated. We need to decentralize power in education to allow market mechanisms to operate. We need to decentralize power to recognize the legitimate diversity of needs and approaches that exist in our educational system.
Benevolent dictatorships are always attractive on paper but the benevolent part never works out in practice.
But perhaps the problem was that I didn’t apply my answers to each of the questions he raised, so I’ll do so here:
Mike asks: If not through common standards, how else should we address the problem of vague, content-free state standards?
I answer: Focus political pressure on states with weak standards and assessments. Using NAEP to shame weak states, as Paul Peterson and Rick Hess have been doing, is helpful. Choice and competition among states should also help to some degree. States with lousy standards and assessments will have a harder time attracting (and developing) skilled labor and will attract less capital investment, job-creation, and, as a result, generate less tax revenue. Lastly, centralizing the standards and assessment process at the national level does nothing to address this problem and may well make things worse, as I’ve been arguing.
Mike asks: Laughably low cut scores?
I answer: See the answer to the last question.
Mike asks: Tests that are poorly designed and can’t possibly bear the weight being placed on them, from value-added demands to merit pay to teacher evaluations, etc.?
I answer: See above. Also, there are several high-quality, for-profit testing companies. States could be urged to contract with one of them. Frankly, most states already do and most tests are technically reasonable, so I don’t see this as a big problem. I do see moving the development of assessments to the national level as a big problem because then you are liable to get the Linda Darling-Hammond test focusing on project-based learning, measuring collaboration, etc…
Mike asks: Small state departments of education that don’t have the resources or capacity to get this technical stuff right?
I answer: Name me a state that does not have the resources to hire a decent commercial testing company. Even the small state departments of education have more money than Croesus. And as we know from Caroline Hoxby’s research, the cost of testing is trivial.
Mike asks: Textbook and curriculum and professional development and teacher training markets that are fragmented into fifty pieces?
I answer: I’ll answer with a question. What’s bad about having 50 textbooks, curricula, professional development, etc…? We have more than 50 different restaurants, book publishers, etc… and the expanded choice and competition in those sectors helps improve quality. It’s odd to hear someone call for a monopoly when the government normally tries to break those things up.
(edited to correct typos)