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  • John Garen, PhD

Nobody Likes Common Core

School choice initiatives have gained increased traction in many places, including Kentucky. This is great news for moving away from education planned by central authorities and toward parental control of their kids’ schooling.

But I came across another source of encouraging news from two unexpected sources: The Washington Post and the center-left think tank, the Brookings Institution. Post blogger Jay Mathews favorably discusses the sharp critique of Common Core by Tom Loveless, a former researcher at Brookings.

Common Core is the curriculum and standards set by a nationwide effort of states’ and the federal departments of education. It’s part of a top-down approach to education, where the education bureaucracy determines curriculum everywhere. But here’s a quote from the critique: “The idea of standards-based reform should be abandoned. It doesn’t work.”

So perhaps there’s hope that the failure of the top-down approach to schooling is recognized across the political spectrum.

This failure is not a surprise. Though there are some general educational practices that apply broadly, there is no best, “one-size-fits-all” curriculum. Central authorities simply cannot know and implement the varied approaches needed for the vastly different families, children, teachers, administrators, and circumstances that comprise American schools. Thus, the failure of such a top-down effort is inevitable. This critique applies equally to innumerable other school policies, including student discipline, sex education, and what to say about critical race theory.

Another quote from the critique also is noteworthy: “It could be that standards that take place organically — essentially, that evolve between parent and child in the home or between teacher and student in the classroom — produce good outcomes, but standards that occur through exogenous force or pressure — in this case policy-induced expectations — have no effect.”

I could hardly have said it better myself. Naturally, each child is unlikely to have a curriculum tailored precisely to themselves. Nevertheless, enabling parents to choose schools, and allowing schools to offer different approaches for different kids, is a key for getting a good match between student and school.

Central educational authorities have shown little inclination to facilitate this. All the more reason for robust and broad-based school choice.


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