The case for (and against) commonality

We need higher and common education standards, argue former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

The Common Core State Standards define what students need to know; they do not define how teachers should teach, or how students should learn. That is up to each state. And they are built on what we have learned from high-performing international competitors as well as the best practices in leading states.

. . . research shows that rigorous mastery of fractions is crucial for later math performance. The Common Core State Standards provide clear grade-by-grade goals for what students should know about fractions, built on the best practices of high-performing countries. In literacy, what most predicts college readiness is the ability to read and understand complex texts. The Common Standards set clear benchmarks for each grade for students reading sufficiently complex texts in English, history/social studies, science and technical subjects.

Bush and Klein make the case against common standards, contends Greg Forster on Jay Greene’s blog. They argue that states, not the federal government, should set education policy. But the feds have pushed states to adopt Common Core Standards by threatening loss of Title I funds; the testing consortia are federally funded.

Furthermore, what’s so great about commonality?

If states should lead the way, if what we want is a decentralized 50-state laboratory of democracy, why not actually do that instead of rounding up all the states to all do it one way?

I wish a few states with strong standards and an established test, such as Massachusetts, had resisted pressure to jump on the Common Core bandwagon. It would be nice to see a few laboratories of democracy.

About Joanne


  1. tim-10-ber says:

    I could not agree more with your comment on MA. Why were they chasing the money when it meant lowering their standards. Apparently the same will be true for Tennessee who supposedly went from the bottom to second only to MA in high quality standards only to get caught up in the RTTT. Every thing I hear about RTTT means lower standards…just when I thought TN was going to break out of the basement our district is back to playing games with low cut scores that undermine what the teachers do in the classroom and how the sincere teachers grade (meaning true grades vs grade inflation). This is sad for TN and sad for the country. In so many ways I hope my district fails AYP again…the state could take them over but won’t as it has no clue what to do…other than make it worse for the students and teachers…very sad for TN

  2. Klein and Bush make some dubious assertions about curriculum and pedagogy.

    1. The ELA CCSS establish only a portion of what students should know. Except for mentions of Shakespeare and foundational American works, there is only passing mention of literary traditions or specific works (aside from the exemplars, which, as their name implies, serve as examples, not as a coherent curriculum). In fact, the standards say outright that they do not specify all or even most of the content that students are supposed to know.

    2. It is news to me that states should decide how teachers should teach. Shouldn’t that be up to the teacher (and, in some cases, the school)? If nothing is left to the teacher’s discretion, then it will be difficult to attract qualified teachers to the profession. Moreover, why should pedagogy be determined at the state level? It should depend on the subject matter, grade level, topic, students, and other factors.

    I would have preferred a lean, high-quality, completely voluntary common curriculum, which schools could then develop and flesh out. Or even a set of curricula from which to choose. By curriculum I mean an outline of the topics, concepts, and works that students should learn–not a set of unit and lesson plans.

    This would allow schools to build common knowledge without making everything identical. It would allow for much variation but still help ensure that students learned certain important things. From there, performance standards and assessments could be developed–but the curriculum would be the starting point.

    When you start with performance standards instead of curriculum, the very definition of content becomes confused. People treat the standards as though they laid out the content, when this is not so.

  3. The further you remove decision-making from the people who are actually in charge of implementing these decisions, the worse the system becomes. The only thing worse than having one remote person decide the affairs of millions is having a committee attempting to do so.

  4. FYI– For complete access to the WSJ piece, just paste the title of the essay into a Google search.

  5. I think this claim is inaccurate: “But the feds have pushed states to adopt Common Core Standards by threatening loss of Title I funds….” I’m not aware of the Department tying Common Core to Title I; they tied it to voluntary, competitive, and new funds under Race to the Top.