Why States Should Hop Off the National Standards Bandwagon

When “states signed on to common core standards, they did not realize…that they were transferring control of the school curriculum to the federal government,” said Sandra Stotsky, 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality at the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform, speaking at The Heritage Foundation on Tuesday.

Stotsky and four other education scholars from around the nation met to discuss the Obama Administration’s growing push for Common Core national education standards and why states should resist Washington’s attempt to further centralize education.

The Obama Administration’s press for common education standards is not the first time the federal government has attempted to meddle in school curriculum, as Williamson Evers, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, explained at Tuesday’s event. While the creation of national standards has been led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the standards have been “pushed by the Obama Administration,” explained Evers. “So this is where we are now. The feds are financing the tests. They’re financing model curriculum.”

Federal involvement in curriculum, as attorney Kent Talbert of Talbert & Eitel explained, raises critical legal questions. As he points out in a February report, three federal laws prohibit “federal direction, control, or supervision of curricula, programs of instruction, and instructional materials…in the elementary and secondary school arena.” The Obama Administration’s actions to condition federal Race to the Top funding on a state’s adoption of Common Core standards, as well as the Administration’s recent move to condition No Child Left Behind waivers on a state’s adoption of the standards, runs afoul of these laws.

Beyond the legal issues, the cost of implementing the standards should be of great concern to states, Theodor Rebarber, CEO and founder of AccountabilityWorks, explained. “States did almost no costs analysis” when they signed on to adopt the Common Core standards, Rebarber noted. However, a report he authored earlier this year conservatively estimated the overall national cost for implementing Common Core at a hefty $16 billion.

What’s more, the standards are unlikely to promote higher educational quality; rather, they will likely impede achievement.

Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute warned that the standards create “a disincentive to innovators long term.” He explained that while the Common Core standards aim to have students take Algebra I in ninth grade, Massachusetts previously set a higher standard to have students take Algebra I in eighth grade. “So it’s really become for us a ‘race to the middle.’”

The Common Core standards “are leading to a federally controlled and intellectually undemanding curriculum,” Stotsky stated.

More federal control of education is not the solution to improving educational quality. As Rebarber pointed out, over the last several decades “the whole focus of education reform has been on centralization.” First, “it really was an issue of state control and state authority over local school boards,” he explained. When that failed, the next move was to increase federal authority. “When that didn’t work, we’ve sort of shifted to a national curriculum. So the solution at each point…was greater centralization.”

“We need to work together to create an alternative paradigm,” urged Rebarber, one that “doesn’t rely on centralization.”

States across the nation are doing just that: reforming education by putting control back into the hands of parents and local leaders and empowering them with school choice. Common Core education standards would undermine these efforts by giving greater control to Washington. States that have adopted Common Core standards should reverse course and push back on federal control of standards and curriculum, ensuring that the needs of students—not Washington—come first.

Watch our related video, “Washington’s Latest Education Overreach: National Standards for Schools“:

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