Do Conservatives Support National Education Standards?

The Fordham Institute, long advocates of national education standards, are celebrating the adoption of the Common Core Curriculum, calling it “national standards conservatives can love”.

The basis for this claim celebration is that “red states” have adopted the standards, that conservatives have not objected to the adoption, and that conservatives like “equal standards for all” and thus support a single national standard.

Indeed, many states have already adopted the Common Core Standards – uniform national standards in reading and math, including “red states”. Of course, the adoption was fueled by financial incentives to do so – federal “Race to the Top” funding was tied to the adoption of Common Core Standards.

On the lack of public outcry, Fordham’s Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli write:

[The adoption of Common Core Standards is] occurring with little outcry from the right, save for a half-dozen libertarians who don’t much care for government to start with.

They of course, completely distort what libertarians believe about government, and are just wrong about the level of criticism, which Jay Greene destroys them on:

Is the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which came out against national standards, just a handful of libertarian crazies? Is the Heritage Foundation, which also opposes national standards, just a handful of libertarian nut-jobs? Or how about the Pioneer Institute? And look who’s supporting national standards — fine conservatives like the American Federation of Teachers.

If there has been “little outcry”, is probably because that few voters know this is happening. The “Common Core Standards” was buried in the stimulus legislation, and has since been overshadowed by health care, Wall Street “reform,” unemployment benefits extensions, Cap & Trade, and other policy matters.

Pennsylvania’s state Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards on July 1, which coincided with the passage of the state budget, a news story that may have overshadowed it. We are taking a quick, unscientific poll to see how many of our readers knew the state had adopted the Common Core.


The final, and perhaps most important point from a policy perspective, is that conservatives would want a single standard, because it’s the best way to measure quality. There are good reasons to question state-created standards. Many states have watered down their standardized tests to inflate their performance on No Child Left Behind measures. This includes Pennsylvania, where the number of students proficient on the PSSA (the state test) exceeds those proficient on the national NAEP exam by 80%.

Fordham points out in their analysis that the Common Core is a tougher standard than 37 states in reading and 39 in math. Of course this means it is on par with, or lower, than the remaining states. Indeed, the Common Core would weaken standards in a number of states, and the national standard is only likely to be lowered as those who help design the standards start being held accountable to them.

Of course, the Common Core goes beyond simply being a single standard, but one developed by the education establishment and pushed by the federal government. Conservatives might like a comparable standard, but not one imposed by Washington. Do Finn and Petrilli really think conservatives want a federal standard to compare cars – or would they simply use the comparisons (on a single standard) developed by Motor Trend, Car and Driver, or Consumer Reports?

So long as we have a monopolistic education system, where the vested interests are the ones designing measures for their own performance, it really doesn’t matter if those standards are set in state capitals or Washington.