Education Standards Have Little Effect
Special Report - February 23, 2010
The CATO Institute's Neal McCluskey released an analysis on February 16 arguing that the push to create national education standards, rather than leaving these to the states, would produce no positive effect on student achievement. In the analysis, entitled Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards, McCluskey explains that there is little evidence to suggest any causation between a nation’s adoption of national education standards and that nation’s performance on international exams. Moreover, he claims that academically high-performing nations that have national education standards perform wellnot because of their national education standardsbut because a cultural emphasis on academic performance causes their success, and causes them to implement federally dictated standards.
While the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top grants for states’ education coffers are poised for distribution to the competition’s winners, the grant application includes an incentive for states to sign on to the national Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) put forth last year by the National Governors Association. According to McCluskey, a state’s “adoption [of the CCSSI] will almost certainly be de facto involuntary, and the standards themselves ultimately federal.”
Not only would national standards be unhelpful to reform education if unaccompanied by a more academic culture, but the push for a more nationalized curriculum could be detrimental. McCluskey suggests concentrating curriculum decisions at the federal level would allow lobbies like teachers’ unions more control over the centralized system, while creating more intense politicization of the content of curriculum on controversial issues. Moreover, the United States is more ethnically, religiously, and ideologically diverse than many of the nations that have implemented national standards, and a nationalized standard curriculum would run roughshod over such diversity.
McCluskey concludes that the only solution to reforming schools is to introduce a national system of school vouchers or education tax credits. By creating an educational free market, he contends that families could choose between religious and secular models, and only high-performing schools will survive to teach children. Rather than trying to establish controversial national standards that will have little effect, McCluskey states that opening the education industry to be a free market will achieve comprehensive and deep reform, because, as he says, “standards are ubiquitous in free markets.”
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