(Guest post by Greg Forster)
In his post yesterday, Jay mentioned that the imperatives behind Common Core are hostile to school choice:
Pushing it forward requires frightening reductions in parental control over education and expansions of federal power. These are not the unnecessary by-products of a misguided Obama Administration over-reach. Constraining parental choice and increasing federal power were entirely necessary to advance Common Core. And they were perfectly foreseeable (we certainly foresaw these dangers here at JPGB).
But back in the day, Jay and I were both supporters of Jeb Bush’s A+ program, which combined standards and choice. So why is Common Core anti-choice where Florida’s standards were choice-friendly?
The answer lies in the imperative to expand standards. As Jay and I have both pointed out, the whole CC project is centrally built on the assumption that there is a positive relationship between the geographic scope of standards and their academic quality. Consistently, CC advocates have used adjectives like “national” and “common” as if they were synonyms for “better.”
Why would we expect standards to be better if they are set at a higher geographic level? The implicit educational worldview behind this is a technocratic scientific progressivism: there is one best way to educate children, and an elite class of technocrats can be trusted to know what it is and get the bureaucracy to carry it out successfully (and without corruption). Consequently, we should want more uniformity across schools. If parents have diverse opinions about what is best for their children and wish to choose diverse schools, we must not permit ourselves to think that this may be because 1) there is no “one best way” because every child is unique; 2) the technocrats’ knowledge of the one best way is fallible; 3) the technocrats’ ability to get the bureaucracy to do its will is severely limited; or 4) power corrupts, and the technocrats and the bureaucracy alike are not to be trusted with monopoly power. Diverse parental desires are to be interpreted as a sign that parents can’t be trusted.
By contrast, A+ did not seek to expand standards; it only sought to impose them on one school system. The implicit logic of A+ ran as follows: if the state is going to run a school system, it ought to set standards for what that system should be doing. However, we have no illusions that the standards we are setting for our own system represent the “one best way,” so parents ought to be free to choose whether our school or some other school is best for their child. With this logic, as Jay used to say, standards and choice are like chocolate and peanut butter – two great tastes that taste great together.
(Of course, it is a comparatively recent development that all the public schools in a state are effectively one school system. Over the past half century or so, America has dramatically shifted from having many thousands of local school systems to having just fifty state systems. And that has been a bad development because it has reduced choice and thereby reduced pressure for improvement. But that’s a discussion for another day; it doesn’t change the fact that the logic behind A+ was non-expansionary.)
Now, it is logically possible for a person to favor both CC and school choice. But the arguments in favor of CC that you have to construct in order to get to that result are the intellectual equivalent of a Rube Goldberg machine. It’s like that court case a few years ago over teaching intelligent design in public schools, where the expert called to testify in favor of ID said that you don’t need to believe in God to believe in ID. That is true, at the level of logical possibilities; you can construct an argument that simultaneously affirms ID and atheism. But there is no one who actually believes that, because the intellectual contortions necessary to get there are absurd. In fact, ID is intuitively theistic even though it does not logically require theism. That fact is not an argument against its truth (unless you begin by begging the question and assuming atheism is true) but it is relevant to the consideration of how students encounter ID in public schools.
In the same way, CC is intuitively anti-choice even though it does not logically require opposition to choice.