McCluskey on National Standards

simp_itch_trapped.jpg image by anaisjude

Checker Finn may say he’s paranoid, but Neal McCluskey really seems to be thinking straight when it comes to national standards.  The issue isn’t whether the currently proposed national standards are good (and it is likely that they are better than those in some states and worse than those in others).  The issue is who will control the national standards system in the future, once it is built.

Fordham is aware of the problem and promises that they are working on a foolproof way to keep the “good guys” in control forever, but you might think that would be something they would have all worked out BEFORE they build the national standards system.  And as Murphy’s law says: “Nothing is foolproof because fools are so ingenious.”

Building a national standards machine before you know how to control it is like every sci-fi story where the scientists build the robots before working out a plan for how to handle the robots when they go haywire.  Don’t these folks know the Elementary Chaos Theory?

Here’s Neal’s  money quote:

let’s stop focusing on whether the Common Core standards right now are good, bad, or indifferent, and talk about their future prospects, which is what really matters. Oh, wait: Most national standardizers avoid that discussion like the plague because they know that the overwhelming odds are the standards will end up either dismal, or at best just unenforced. Why? Because the same political forces that have smushed centralized standards and accountability in almost every state — the teacher unions, administrator associations, self-serving politicians, etc. — will just do their dirty work at the federal rather than state level. Indeed, those groups will still be the most motivated and effectively organized to control education politics, but they will have the added benefit of one-stop shopping!

The tragic flaw in the thinking of many national-standards supporters is not the desire to create high bars for students to clear, but the utter delusion, or maybe just myopia, that allows them to assume that they will control the standards in a monopoly over which, by its very nature, they almost never hold the reins.


12 Responses to McCluskey on National Standards

  1. Daniel Earley says:

    Once those reins start coming up for grabs in election cycles, I think I’ll start keeping track of each special interest group’s jubilant Ron Silver moment: “Hey, those are OUR standards now!”

  2. allen says:

    The problem for Finn and other proponents of national standards is once the question of the inherently politicized nature of national standards is in the air the assurances that the proper approach will prevent that politicization start to look pretty stupid.

  3. robin says:

    Neal’s analysis is even more prescient when you factor in the Model Core Teaching Standards CCSSO quietly released over the weekend.

    They are to be used to teach the Common Core Standards.

    So much for not telling the states how to teach.

    Also do not miss the accompanying State Policy Implications of Model Core Teaching Standards.

    How will teachers feel now that everything for them-accountability, rewards, and sanctions-is to be team based?

  4. robin says:

    I forgot to point out that the new Teaching Standards were funded by the NEA, Education Testing Service, and Pearson.

  5. Daniel Earley says:

    As always, no folly is ever new. Here’s Madison noting the fundamental problem at the core:

    “It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.”

    How terribly expensive and unfortunate our hubris — that every generation insists on learning these lessons the hard way.

  6. I’m afraid this is right.

  7. Support for curriculum standards proceeds from magical thinking. The fundamental flaw in the argument for standards is that neither children nor their future career paths are standard. The education industry is no more likely a candidate for national standards than is the restaurant industry or the shoe industry. Imposed standards are utterly inappropriate for an industry that would generate a more harmonious result if utterly free of external control, beyond individual parent’s desires and provider’s capabilities, for very young children, and students’ desires and instructors’ capabilities, for older children and young adults.

    This view has empirical support. Years ago I took the grades which the Fordham Institute and the Education Trust gave to States for their standards, converted these graddes into numbers on a 0-4 point scale, and applied the EXCEL correlation function to States’ NAEP 8th grade Math score. The result was negative–the higher the standard the lower the score.

    Standards are a distraction from the main argument: What does society gain from a State presence in the education industry, anyway? Aside from drug abuse, vandalism, and violence, that is.

  8. GGW says:

    If it’s true that “political forces that have smushed centralized standards and accountability in almost every state” then isn’t there little to lose, and much to gain?

    There’s a plausible case that it’s easier to beat the Blob at the federal level than at 50 state levels.

  9. Some people make this argument. Seems to me national standards make life easier for people who can afford to maintain a permanent office in Washington (i.e., the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel). Township-level curriculum standards commit both sides to perpetual jungle guerrilla warfare, which favors little guys with low-tech weapons. National curriculum standards commit both sides to massive combined-forces operations in open terrain. The cartel wins, there. There’s a reason that the NEA supported Carter’s creation of a US Department of Education.

  10. Daniel Earley says:

    Nice summary, Malcolm. I believe your point is even subtly implicit in the blob metaphor itself. Victory over a giant amoeba a million times larger than any cell is more likely with its tentacles thinly outstretched to your home turf than vice versa. Basically it’s a matter of home field advantage.

    I’d also not want to hinge the entire game on a single “Hail Mary Pass” into the end zone. Allow them to place their entire bench in that end zone shoulder to shoulder and … you get the picture.

  11. […] blog are much more skeptical.  They have weighed in on the issue AGAINST national standards here, here, here, and especially here.  Their position can best be summarized with these remarks from Jay […]

  12. matthewladner says:


    People don’t like to hear that their choices are between really bad and even worse. That is the case here. “Not much to lose” means the few states that have managed to maintain decent standards and tests are likely to lose them.

    Now, Checker and Mike have assured us that they are cooking up a solution to the great national dummy down scenario. Odd that no one is bother to address this before foisting this on much of the country.

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