If you want to start a fight amongst Republicans, there are many topics one could bring up, but more recently new standards for American schools have raised the ire of numerous Republicans.
The Common Core, put forward by the Obama administration in order to improve student success and long-term competitiveness amongst international students, is supposed cause for much outcry.
A recent article in the Galveston Daily News points out that the National Governors Association and state education superintendents developed the program, which simply set uniform standards for where students should be—like solving math problems by plotting points on (x, y) axes in the fifth grade. In this way, calling this a “federal” government initiative distorts the truth of the matter.
Most of the key points by experts on education policy, like Williamson Evers from The Heritage Institution, Neal McCluskey from The Cato Institute and Sandra Stotsky, have various political-theoretical critiques to make of the system.
For example, non-uniform education standards will increase competition amongst states, which will increase education standards. This line of argument says nothing about the content of what is taught in the classroom.
If we take the measures of international testing seriously, and American “exceptionalism” is on the decline, then as a nation we need standards to determine where we need to go. Many hold theoretical reluctance toward the Common Core for a number of reasons, but often times the thought is that by having none or very few national education standards, then market forces will allow certain states to develop education reforms in such a way that the best prevail.
The problem is whether this principle actually works. Should education be treated like a market?
It clearly operates on numerous principles that are not market-oriented, so I am hesitant to endorse something like this view of diffuse and diverse experimentation on education standards.
Evers, McCluskey and Stotsky say in the New York Daily News that “there is little deeper research on this, but what there is suggests that once you control for variables such as income and culture, national standards have no effect.”
In other words, so long as you control for some of these things that mess with market forces, you can use competition amongst states to find the best standards
Paying attention to the unique circumstances of localities is important, but broader standards like the Common Core give direction to a directionless system of education.
With luck, states and school districts will be able to devise plans to deal with local education concerns that the Common Core does not address in implementation.
Dearman is a senior majoring in political science and philosophy.