WSJ Hosts National Standards Smackdown

Well, it wasn’t really a Smackdown, but it was a lively debate between Checker and me on whether we should adopt national standards.

Here’s a taste —


One way to ensure that young people develop the skills they need to compete globally is to set clear standards about what schools should teach and students should learn—and make these standards uniform across the land. Leaving such decisions to individual states, communities and schools is no longer serving the U.S. well….

Perhaps most damaging to our international scores and economic competitiveness has been our reluctance to follow the example of nearly every other successful modern country and establish rigorous national standards for our schools and students. States, districts, schools and individuals would, of course, be free to surpass those expectations—but not to fall below them.

We need rigorous national standards because we live in a mobile society where a fourth-grader in Portland, Maine, may find herself in fifth grade in Portland, Ore., just as a high-school senior in Springfield, Ill., may enter college in Springfield, Mass. We need them because our employers increasingly span the entire country—and globe—and require a workforce that is both skilled and portable. This is no longer a country where children born in Cincinnati should expect to spend their entire lives there. They need to be ready for jobs in Nashville and San Diego, if not Singapore and São Paulo.


Even if we could identify a single, best way to educate all children, who is to say the people controlling the nationalized education system would pursue those correct approaches? Reformers would do well to remember that they are politically weaker than teacher unions and other entrenched interests. Minority religions shouldn’t favor building national churches because inevitably it won’t be their gospel being preached….

… student achievement has been flat for four decades. But this lack of progress wasn’t caused by a lack of national standards. Instead, unionization of educators and the resulting imposition of uniformity and restraints on competition are largely to blame. Imposing even more uniformity with national standards will only compound that problem.

Countries with national standards generally don’t have higher achievement. Canada and Australia are large, diverse countries like the U.S., with significantly stronger student performance as measured on international tests. Yet neither has national standards, tests or curricula. It is true that some high-achieving countries do have national standards—examples include Singapore and Finland—but these countries contain small homogeneous populations that might be more comparable to one of our states or large districts than to the U.S. as a whole. And many lower-achieving countries, such as Greece and Thailand, have national standards and curricula.

The way to improve our students’ performance is to reinvigorate choice and competition, not stifle it. We should be as wary of central planning for our education system as we would for our economy.

3 Responses to WSJ Hosts National Standards Smackdown

  1. Well at least Checker is finally acknowledging this is all about generic and applied skills. He wrote a really eloquent piece when P21 closed up shop and moved in with CCSSO. Too bad now he refuses to see how his vaunted national content standards are just a PR ploy to get the P21 agenda in place by another name.

    If he doesn’t recognize that yet. Fordham really needs to be reading more of the actual implementation documents. Plus the curriculum and learning progressions the Gates Foundation has financed.

    Jay-I am glad you mentioned central economic planning because that is precisely what the Career Pathways component of Common Core is based on. It practically reeks of a Corporatist “let’s take care of established businesses and they’ll remember me at the next election” industrial planning mentality.

    So how do you eliminate the businessman’s concern that Creative Destruction will result in an innovative process or product that consumers prefer?

    Use Common Core as a publicity stunt to suck facts and knowledge out of education. Make it largely about social and emotional learning to remake the mindset of the future adult so it is grounded in emotion. With a manipulated and remade set of values and attitudes and beliefs. Start in preschool with the mantra “birth to career” to create an instinctive, reflexive belief that an amorphous unknown called “the common good” comes first.

    Keep fighting the good fight Jay. You will be saddened to learn how prescient you have been with your concerns over hijacking.

  2. George Mitchell says:

    The superficial p.r. aspects of this debate weigh heavily in favor of common core. The majority of education reporters and other hangers-on barely acknowledge the existence of a differing point of view. Instead, story after story heralds the fact that 46 states are developing standards. My local paper last week called them “rigorous.” The K-12 education world seems uniquely vulnerable to the siren song of simple slogans.

    • George-“rigorous” is yet another of those commonly used ed terms that has a counterintuitive definition known only to insiders and tracking maniacs like me.

      Rigorous basically tracks back to Dewey’s indeterminate situation where there is no fixed answer and the student must grapple with the possibilities. Lauren Resnick defined it in some official documents in the late 80s and that has been the ed meaning ever since.

      Duplicitous meanings account for much of the masquerade surrounding Common Core. The other is that so much is in official but side documents most people do not read.

      Catherine Gewertz has an Ed Week story out today wondering what the definition of Career Readiness will be. It was in an official document put out last week. So she’s either being lied to to give cover to the troubling definition so it remains hidden or Ed Week is continuing to show that Gates money is well spent.

      Either way it creates the appearance of paid shilling for Common Core.

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