“America’s economic strength and standing in the world economy are directly linked to our ability to equip students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the 21st-century economy….We must insist on standards that will prepare our high-school graduates for the demanding challenges they will face.”
So wrote former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) along with former Chancellor of New York City schools Joel Klein last week in a Wall Street Journal editorial arguing for the Common Core—a set of nationwide education standards.
No one would disagree with the statement above, but will national standards—already backed by federal funding—accomplish that worthy goal?
No. Centralized education policy has failed to raise standards of excellence for almost a half-century and doesn’t address the fundamental problems in education today. Furthermore, national standards present the risk of states accepting a middle-of-the-road, lowest common denominator education standard. Simply put, the implementation of national education standards cedes even greater control to Washington and weakens the decision-making power of those closest tostudents.
Even Bush and Klein clearly affirm the authority of states in leading education reforms, noting, “It is the states’ responsibility to foster an education system that leads to rising student achievement.” They argue that the “common standards” are simply a product of the states because they “were voluntarily developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.” In reality, the Obama Administration has made the standards a focal point of its education agenda at every turn, incentivizing their adoption through Race to the Top funds and proposing to make federal Title I dollars—the largest federal source of K–12 education funding—contingent on a state’s adoption of the standards.
In contrast to such centralized policymaking, Governor Bush’s own record shows the power of state-level systemic reform. It is his bold education reforms in Florida—rather than the federal No Child Left Behind—that are setting the standard nationwide for effective education reform.
Florida’s reforms sought to improve educational achievement by making schools more accountable to those closest to the students—parents and taxpayers. Policies require schools to be graded annually and also give families the ability to choose where their child is educated. As a result, students in Florida are thriving, and the achievement gap between minority and white students is narrowing. In 2009, both Hispanic and Black fourth-graders in Florida saw their reading scores improve at twice the rate of the national average.
It is these types of state-led reforms, rather than national standards, that are needed to increase academic achievement. Instead of taking another step towards centralized education policy via national standards, states must have the flexibility to tailor their education systems to meet their students’ needs. Recently, Representative John Kline (R–MN) announced a series of policies that do just this, eliminating unnecessary and duplicative federal education programs and allowing states the ability to determine how they use federal education dollars. Such legislation would give states greater freedom to implement plans similar to those in Florida, which not only provide mechanisms to make schools more accountable to parents but also empower parents and students with school choice.
Rather than increasing federal power with national education standards, states need greater freedom to implement the reforms necessary to ensure that children, not Washington bureaucrats, are number one.