Checker’s Case for World Government (and Common Core)

In the current issue of the Education Gadfly and on the Education Next blog Checker Finn offers an unusual argument for adoption of K-12 national standards.  He likens opposition to national standards to rooting for the Euro to fail:

If you hope the Euro crashes, that this week’s Brussels summit fails, and that European commerce returns to francs, marks, lira, drachma, and pesetas, you may be one of those rare Americans who also seeks the demise of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in U.S. education.

It’s odd that Checker should pick the Euro as a way to make the case for national standards since the Euro’s difficulties wonderfully illustrate the problems with national standards.  The Euro is in trouble because it was an attempt to impose a common currency on countries that were too diverse in their economic needs and political traditions.  The Euro is too strong of a currency for countries with un-competitive labor forces and undisciplined budget deficits, like Greece, Italy, and Spain.  But if the European Central Bank significantly loosens the currency to bail out these countries, it will create serious inflation problems in countries like Germany and others with more skilled labor forces and reasonable deficits.

The Euro is not in trouble because some people “hope the Euro crashes.”  It’s in trouble because it is a centralized institution that does not fit the diversity of its members.

Similarly, national standards will fail because it is not possible to have a centrally determined set of meaningful standards that can accommodate the legitimate diversity of needs, goals, and values of all of our nation’s school children.  To have an effect national standards inevitably drive the assessments that are used to measure student achievement as well as the methods of instruction that are used to produce that achievement.  “Tight-loose” is just an empty slogan (or part of a drinking game).  In reality standards, assessments, and instruction are closely connected unless they are just irrelevant things.

In a country as large and diverse as ours there is no single, right set of knowledge for all students to possess, no single, best way to assess that knowledge, and no single, best method for teaching it.  The attempt to impose a nationalized system onto this diversity is doomed to fail just as the Euro is doomed to fail in imposing a common currency on such diverse economies and political systems.

The fact that the Euro is in such trouble and creating such political and economic turmoil ought to scare us away from trying to impose a centralized solution on too much diversity.  The Euro crisis is an argument against national standards, unless we are eager to have similar difficulties here.

No one is rooting for those failures, per se.  Some of us just recognize that reality is not created by repeating slogans to each other over catered lunches at DC think tank conferences.  Reality actually exists out there in the world and no matter how many chardonnays I’ve had while listening to the keynote speaker and no matter how many grants the Gates Foundation sprinkles on me and my friends, centrally imposing institutions on too much diversity is doomed to fail.

Of course, there is a way to overcome that diversity and improve the chances for centrally imposed institutions to succeed — force.  If European countries relinquish power to make their own budgets to a central authority, the Euro might work.  Similarly, if individual schools, school districts, and states relinquish power over daily operations to a central authority, the nationalized education movement might succeed.

But achieving that type of centralization in the face of diversity requires an enormous amount of coercion.  People who disagree have to be suppressed, or at least denied the ability to do anything about their dissent.  Local folks no longer get to make the meaningful decisions.  They can just implement the decisions that are centrally made.

This could work but it would be awful.  Some people say they would favor a World Government if only it were possible to do it.  I’m not one of those people.  World Government would be awful because it would require an enormous amount of coercion to overcome local diversity.  To a much lesser degree, a nationalized education system in the US could be done but it would run roughshod over the needs and legitimate interests of many individuals.

But some people are nevertheless attracted to centralized solutions.  I think Tears for Fears has a song that might explain why.

24 Responses to Checker’s Case for World Government (and Common Core)

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Here are some more respects in which national standards are like the Euro:

    1) In order to join the command-and-control system, the constituent jurisdictions (states for national standards, countries for the Euro) had to make formal commitments that they knew very well they weren’t going to keep (because they’re unworkable, they’re not in the constituents’ interests, and the constituents anticipate the central authority will usually be unwilling or unable to enforce them).

    2) The central authority also knows the constituents’ commitments are unworkable and will not be kept, but agrees to go along with the charade because it believes it, not the constituents, will have primary control over when and how the inevitable lapses of enforcement and ad hoc exceptions to the rules will occur (which would put them in a position of arbitrary and unaccountable power).

    3) The command-and-control system will fail because the constituents in fact have more power than the central authority over when and how the inevitable lapses and exceptions occur, and will use this power to free ride on the system.

  2. MOMwithAbrain says:

    OUTSTANDING! I love that you noted the failures in the EU and how that same ideology is now applied to public education. At what point do the feds admit they are doing NOTHING to improve education in this country?

    • Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:

      It is well known that our international competitors in education are much more flexible in meeting the needs of their students. This is done by training and empowering teachers. …. So the US Dept of Ed responds by bribing 45 states into Top Down centralized direction … and lots of spending on testing.

      Don’t forget grants to Teach for America an organization which has now expanded its range into areas with no teacher shortages. …. all the better to replace expensive veteran teachers with much lower paid newbies….

      TFA claims they do a better job and produce better results but Dr. Julian V. Heilig found the exact opposite in several peer-reviewed studies.



      Julian Vasquez Heilig*
      Heather A. Cole**
      Marilyn A. Springel***

      Section B page 395

      The debate over the specific impact of TFA and whether its recruits should be considered high quality teachers has been covered extensively in education-related academic literature. Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez recently conducted a comprehensive analysis of peer-reviewed research on TFA. Examining more than a decade’s worth of research examining TFA outcomes, the study concluded TFA teachers had a positive impact on student achievement in mathematics only when they had obtained training and certification beyond the typically two-year TFA classroom commitment. TFA teachers rarely had a positive impact on reading achievement. In fact, four peer-reviewed studies found novice TFA recruits to have significant negative effects on elementary students’ reading achievement when compared to fully-prepared teachers. TFA recruits’ negative effects on achievement also extended to mathematics in three of the studies. Despite the decidedly mixed effects of its teachers noted in the peer-reviewed research, TFA continues to claim, “Teach For America corps members are more effective.

  3. matthewladner says:

    Ah, the era of random image videos…

    I thought at first that video might have been shot in Arizona. The terrain looks right, and you see a sign for I-10 early in the video.

    Alas, I googled “The Wheel Inn” and it is in California, and has statues of dinosaurs, which were visible in the video.

  4. Mark says:

    One hole in your argument here, Jay. You’re conflating children’s needs, goals, and values with the actual background knowledge that is requisite to gain academic fluency in any given content area. If we are talking math, for example, there are underlying principles that must be taught in order to gain fluency in grappling with mathematical thinking. There’s lots of ways to teach and sequence those underlying principles — but the principles are there, and we can agree to them, just as we can agree that the earth revolves around the sun.

    As a teacher, part of my role and responsibilities are to address the needs, goals, and values of my students. Another part of my duty is to clearly impart the facts and context they need to understand a given concept (such as the earth revolving around the sun). It’s my job — and the job of my school — to connect that content to the students based on their specific, local needs.

    Sometimes I find that I struggle in imparting those facts and principles clearly, because I was not trained to teach those things as a teacher (I was trained mostly on concepts like ‘differentiation’ and ‘learning styles’) and even within my own building I don’t find a coherent explanation of how or what to teach on any given topic. Mainly because the adults in our country seem to have an inability to agree on any of the actual content that we should be teaching.

    Politically speaking, your argument sounds convincing on the surface. Who wants to be controlled? Who would dare to state that there is one truth, one right way to do things?

    But setting clear and focused expectations for what we want our students to learn is not controlling how teachers teach. It’s guiding us, and it’s supporting our work and our thinking. That’s what education is all about.

    We all drive on the right side of the road. We’ve agreed to it. This doesn’t have much to do with the nationalization of anything–it just makes sense.

    We all need to agree on what content we are driving to our students. Or else we will just end up continuing to drive lots of ways to nowhere.

    • Thanks for the comment, Mark. I agree that teachers need a plan for what knowledge they wish to convey. But it does not follow that that plan has to be developed at the national level. Why not develop standards at the global level? I think the answer is that we recognize that standards are not just facts we can all agree on. If we all agreed on them in their entirety there would be no need to articulate and impose standards. The higher the level at which we determine the standards, the more legitimate disagreement there will be.

      Of course, there has to be enough agreement about what is taught, even without centrally determined standards, so that students can move from grade to grade and school to school without too much difficulty. Happily, that amount of consensus generally exists without centrally imposed standards. And to the extent that it needs to be more coordinated, that evolves naturally without it being imposed. For how that happens, see .

      If you think we have to impose it because you think we have to impose a law that says we should all drive on the right, consider the fact that almost all education systems in the northern hemisphere follow roughly the same fall to spring school calendar (with the notable exception of Japan). There is no national law in the U.S. to impose this calendar on all states. There is no UN resolution to impose this calendar across countries. And the agricultural calendar does not dictate it. All of these education systems share a similar calendar because they wanted to make it easier to move from school to school, state to state, and country to country. As it turns out, decentralized systems are pretty good at solving coordination problems. Japan is only off of the calendar everyone else uses because they centrally imposed it and are now stuck with a system that makes it very hard for Japanese managers to move their families across countries.

      • I see validity to both sides here, but ultimately I’m with Mark. Not because I have a burning desire to impose standards or play content czar, but rather because what sounds obvious to Jay (“I agree that teachers need a plan for what knowledge they wish to convey”) is simply absent from most schools, at least at the critical elementary level. We agree to drive on the right hand side, that railroad tracks should be the same gauge across state lines, etc. Unfortunately, standard education practice would dictate that it’s up to the teacher or the child to determine which side of the road to drive on, and how wide railroad tracks should be. This is a principal reason for the substantial number of train wrecks in our schools.

      • Thanks for the comment, Robert. Your observation that basic planning “is simply absent from most schools” is not an argument for national standards. Urging that schools have a plan for instruction does not tell us at what level that plan should be made. Why not local rather than national? In addition, the observation that most schools lack basic planning despite the existence of state standards in every state suggests that nationalizing the process will have no effect. They’ll just fail to implement that as well. Why do you think it will be better if it is national?

      • Recall, Jay, that I’ve always been deeply ambivalent about national standards. I favor a national curriculum. In short, it doesn’t matter to me if you want to use project-based learning, direct instruction, or interpretive dance. The ability to communicate effectively rests pretty squarely on common, shared knowledge. Every school kid needs to graduate high school with a certain baseline of common knowledge. Standards assume we know that. Experience shows we don’t. So let a thousand flowers bloom. I’m all for choice. Just make sure every kid you turn out has enough shared knowledge to work with and communicate with the kids that all the other schools turn out.

      • Mark says:

        Thanks for your reply, Jay. I would love for academic standards to be developed globally. But in the meantime, our nation has experienced much difficulty establishing a ground level consensus on anything that is of public concern, and I believe it is due to a confusion between matters of the private and the public domain throughout the multifarious systems that operate in public education.

        The content and context of public education should be of the public domain, thus requiring commonly agreed upon ground rules of regulation and access, as well as requiring “common, shared knowledge,” as Robert states in his reply. Yet in operation, as Robert noted, it is highly unregulated, chaotic, and subject both to monopoly and politicking. This is of no benefit to the actual stakeholders involved in the day-to-day functioning of public education: teachers and students. As ridiculous as this sounds to someone who doesn’t work in a school, in reality there is often no common, shared knowledge even within schools themselves.

        As a practitioner, I appreciate the goal and purpose of the Common Core Standards because I want to be able to collaborate across state lines with other teachers and develop and refine my curriculum. Like Robert, I would prefer a national curriculum. But given the political struggle it takes just to agree to a pretty basic set of standards, my hope is that the CCS can open the door to commonly agreed upon sets of principles that underlie academic domains. From there, teachers can begin the more organic evolutionary process, that you seem to be proposing, towards coordinating a focused and deep curriculum.

  5. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:

    In WA state the SPI failed to submit the required info as mandated by a law written just for him. Instead of submission on or before 1-1-2011 the report was submitted less than a week before the important 2-5-2011 House hearing. … No time for the public to review… no problem the requirement was for the benefit of legislators NOT the public.

    The submission stated that the WA state cost would be $183.5 million for 5-years. Of that $165 million would come directly out of the funds of local school districts (there was no increased revenue for the locals to make these payments)…. WA has 295 school districts … they have declining resources and had no say in this spending mandate from on high.

    On June 28th, WA State appealed to the WA Supreme Court a legal victory related to the state consistently under funding education in violation of the state constitution. Not a peep from the Supremes so far. The Legislature in November started a 30 day emergency legislative session to deal with cutting more billions due to Budget shortfalls.

    It seems that in terms of a reality check … from real life … The Euro was better thought out than Common Core State Standards …. but did the Euro boosters use as much bribery and extortion to get their members to signup for EURO as the US Dept of Ed did for CCSS? Do knowledgeable consumers signup for stuff like the CCSS sight unseen or is a bunko artist always used?

  6. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:

    Mark said:
    We all need to agree on what content we are driving to our students.
    The CCSS from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is hardly producing what Mark may be expecting. SBAC is far more concerned with processes than content.

    We in WA state have already lived through the Process debacle… the Executive Director of SBAC is Dr. Joe Willhoft from WA State’s assessment office.

    See W. Stephen Wilson on the coming “content” debacle from SBAC as seen in most recent draft.

    Click to access flypaper.pdf

    Dr. Wilson concludes with: ..

    Ultimately, the actual assessments will tell us all what SBAC thinks is important. This Draft does not give good guidance for curriculum developers because content is an afterthought. It appears that the assessments will focus on communication skills and Mathematical Practices over content knowledge. As such, there is little to be optimistic about.

  7. […] Checker’s Case for World Government (and Common Core) December 13th, 2011   Jay P. Greene’s Blog Share this: This entry was posted in Common Core State Standards. Bookmark the permalink. ← Tony Bennett, It’s Better for Educrats to Dictate Standards? […]

  8. concerned says:

    Content is ALWAYS an “afterthought” for educrats…

    They’re goal is feeding their ca$h cow(s) at taxpayer’s expense.

    Just check out all the “new” teaching and training materials cropping up for this latest rendition of snake oil.

    Just say NO!

  9. Audrey Buffington says:

    Mark . . . There’s lots of ways . . .? How about “There are lots of ways . . .?

    And it isn’t “the earth.” Earth is aplanet like Mars and Saturn. You don’t say, “The Neptune . . ” so don’t say, “The Earth . . .” unless you are talking about the soil.

    Perhaps all teachers should have to take assessments based on the English and science standards.

    Now, to the point of Jay’s article:

    Most state standards would have been fine with a little tweaking Educating our K-8 teachers in math content would have been a far better use of all of the money being spent.

    • Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:

      Audrey wrote: “Most state standards would have been fine with a little tweaking Educating our K-8 teachers in math content would have been a far better use of all of the money being spent.”

      But that is not the goal …. the goal is the largest expansion of expensive testing imaginable…. and for that common standards are need for developing those tests.

      Without a big centralized bureaucratic structure … control of education would be lost … and effective and efficient educational practices might flourish.

      Ed USA k-12 will continue to be the laughing stock of the world until the proven practices, used elsewhere, begin to be used rather than discouraged in USA classrooms.

      It seems that the corporations know there is much more money to be made in attempted cures of deficiencies than prevention.

      The SBAC as reported by W. Stephen Wilson in the Gadfly … is big on assessing process rather than content. … That is not surprising as SBAC’s executive director is Joseph Willhoft … who was a big doer and promoter of the WASL assessment in WA state. Which did little if anything to improve education in WA state but chewed up lots of money. Look for CCSS to do the same …. if this entire effort does not collapse in a pile of unpaid bills.

      Like RttT and most proposals from Arne Duncan, there is hardly any evidence for believing that CCSS could be successful. “One Size” will not fit all. Neither Arne D nor Rod Paige were experts at anything in education other than self-promotion.

    • Mark says:

      Audrey, my purpose in commenting on a blog is not to open up my writing to editorial critique. I am attempting to articulate my thoughts and ideas in order to promote discussion.

      To the one point of substance you make here: how are we to educate our K-8 teachers in math content without a commonly agreed upon curriculum that they are expected to teach?

  10. Audrey Buffington says:

    Before you answer, Mark . . . yes, I see a couple of editing errors in my work. I would like to blame it on my vision but since I saw them after they were published, I should have seen them before clicking on “Post Comment.”

    Editing errors:
    need end quotes after “ways . . . ?”
    a space between “a” and “planet”
    a third dot after “The Neptune . . .”
    Period after “tweaking”

  11. […] would liberate education is a thriving marketplace of ideas, not nationalization. As Jay Greene notes, “a nationalized education system in the US could be done but it would run roughshod over the […]

  12. Chris Liebig says:

    I love this post.

    Mark Mitchell recently posted about how the European crisis should cause people to reflect about whether “optimal human institutions—those that facilitate human flourishing—cannot exceed a certain scale, and when they do, they will inevitably suffer.” Doesn’t the same principle apply to education? Who wants to commit their five-year-old to a huge, bureaucratic institution over which they have no meaningful control?

    My more complete thoughts here.

  13. […] would liberate education is a thriving marketplace of ideas, not nationalization. As Jay Greene notes, “a nationalized education system in the US could be done but it would run roughshod over the […]

  14. […] The most recent education policy affirmed by President Obama has placed a strong emphasis on a common core of curriculum to be taught in all schools nationwide. Not only does this policy prevent school districts from […]

  15. […] The most recent education policy affirmed by President Obama has placed a strong emphasis on a common core of curriculum to be taught in all schools nationwide. Not only does this policy prevent school districts from […]

  16. […] The most recent education policy affirmed by President Obama has placed a strong emphasis on a common core of curriculum to be taught in all schools nationwide. Not only does this policy prevent school districts from […]

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