Questions for Jeb and Joel

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries my letter to the editor responding to last week’s op-ed by Jeb Bush and Joel Klein advocating national (“common”) education standards.

In my letter, I ask a few questions:

I greatly respect Jeb Bush and Joel Klein. But if Common Core is voluntary and state-driven, how do they explain the federal government repeatedly threatening states to join it or lose federal funds? Why are the testing consortia associated with this effort federally funded and controlled?

Confusingly, Messrs. Bush and Klein praise decentralization and local control for pedagogy while urging states to submit to a centralized command-and-control system for content standards. If nationalization is bad for pedagogy, why is it good for standards? Is it even possible to nationalize standards without nationalizing pedagogy?

Common Core’s standards are so mediocre that they set a “college readiness” level that is below what students need even to apply to most colleges. And they’ll get worse over time, since centralization facilitates teacher union control. What about the perpetual culture war national content standards would create? What is the upside?

Greg Forster

Foundation for Educational Choice

5 Responses to Questions for Jeb and Joel

  1. momwithabrain says:

    Outstanding reply. Hard to tell these guys from the progressives.

  2. Greg,

    You raise some valid questions in the first paragraph; however, having worked as a publisher to re-align both an essay and grammar curriculum to the new standards, I can assure you that the ELA/reading standards are not mediocre. In fact, other than the California and Massachusetts state standards, the Common Core State Standards are a noticeable upgrade for the rest of the states.

    For example, the rigor in the language strand for primary school children would surprise many educational pundits. Here are more examples in my article: http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/common-core-language-standards/

    As to fears of centralization, state departments of education and legislatures still have the power of revision. Witness California’s revisions as evidence. Examples here: http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/california-common-core-language-standards/

    • Greg Forster says:

      Well, that depends on the relevant standard – “mediocre” compared to what? I’m perfectly willing to grant that Common Core may be better than what the worst states are doing. But it’s also worse than what the best states are doing. The word “mediocre” means literally “in the middle.”

      We might frame this issue differently by talking about floors and ceilings. The effort to use federal power to force all states to adopt Common Core is motivated by a desire to establish a floor – a level below which states cannot sink. I have doubts about the effectiveness of this particular approach to creating floors, but let’s leave that aside. The bigger problem is that Common Core also establishes a ceiling. Massachusetts has chucked its best-in-the-nation standards in favor the inferoir Common Core standards.

      I’m much more worried about ceilings than I am about floors. Once you establish a ceiling, the motivation for improvement is gone. People settle into complacency. The only thing that drives improvement in any sector, education or elsewhere, is the absence of ceilings.

      The desire to raise floors is not an intrinsically bad one. But when raising floors becomes more important than removing ceilings, you’ve got the makings of a disaster on your hands.

  3. Daniel Earley says:

    “What about the perpetual culture war national content standards would create?”

    This alone is a deal killer. Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room. If not now, it’s historically the stuff civil wars are made of.

  4. […] Jay P. Greene’s blog has many articles about the Common Core and its inability to live up to the educational standards that he thinks America should have. […]

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