December 2, 2013

Common Core doth protest too much

By Anastasia P. Boden Attorney

A nationalized school curriculum would be bad enough if it were constrained to public schools, but the latest Common Core developments show that the purported “standards” threaten to standardize not just the curriculums of traditional public schools, but charter schools, private schools, and home schooling parents as well.

Common Core supporters continue to profess that the program is a “state-led initiative” that in no way constitutes a nationalized curriculum.  Sure, the Common Core standards themselves are mere standards, which in theory leave the curriculum up to the teachers.  But these proponents ignore an $186 million fact: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers—the organization tasked with designing the standardized tests for U.S. public schools—received $186 million dollars under the “Race to the Top” program to develop new tests aligned to the common core standards.  Standardized tests drive curriculum.  As Cato Education Policy Analyst Jason Bedrick put it, “it’s as though Apple told app-designers they could make any kind of app they want so long as all the apps perform the same basic function, operate at the same speed, and cost the same amount. Of course, they’re welcome to vary the color scheme.”  Thus, the new tests will necessarily eviscerate any teacher autonomy that Common Core purportedly leaves intact, including the autonomy of charter school teachers—as all public schools are required to administer standardized testing.

Common Core also threatens the autonomy of private school teachers and home schooling parents, as the ACT and SAT are also being rewritten to align with Common Core.  The ACT and SAT are important components of the college application process, and students must do well on these tests to have a shot at getting into a good college.  Private schools know this, and are under duress to teach to those tests, which are in turn aligned to Common Core.

Further, some states have enacted laws which allow parents to use tax credits or vouchers at schools that use Common Core standards—meaning any private school that wants to be eligible under a state’s school choice program must implement Common Core.

School choice is an important driver of innovation in education.  By allowing schools to try new ways of teaching, it allows those schools to discover the best new educational practices.   It is no surprise that charter school students perform better than students at traditional public schools.  And by allowing parents to leave failing schools, school choice ensures that only the best schools succeed.  Importantly, this choice often provides educational opportunity to the disadvantaged students who need it most.

Common core threatens this choice, by effectively mandating charter schools, home schoolers, and even private schools to teach to the Common Core tests.  Top-down directed education may lead to uniform results, but often those results will be uniformly mediocre.  Nonetheless, whether Common Core provides good or bad outcomes, it threatens parents’ fundamental right to direct their children’s upbringing.  Check out PLF’s K-12 Education Reform Project, which advocates for expanding, not limiting, this liberty.

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