Evidence, Please?

A couple of days ago the Common Core State Standards Initiative released a new draft of its national, “college- and career-readiness” math and English curricular standards. The content of the standards isn’t of huge interest to me – the biggest dangers are in the implementation of standards, not the drafting – but what is of great interest is determining whether having national standards makes sense in the first place. Unfortunately, it appears that many standards fans couldn’t care less about that little concern.

To satisfy my interest, I’ve been delving into empirical work that might back claims that national standards are necessary for educational success, or just that they improve academic outcomes. And what have I found? As I laid out in a recent National Review Online op-ed, and argue today on the New York Times“Room for Debate” blog, there’s hardly any such evidence. There is scant good research on national standards, and what there is largely ignores serious questions about the confounding impact of such factors as culture and changing educational attitudes.

This dearth of research explains why national standardizers are almost totally silent about evidence and instead defend their proposals with soundbites about high expectations for all kids, or the ”craziness” of having 50 state standards.  It also explains why they seem to be in a big hurry to get standards drafted, and why the Obama administration is already dangling billions of dollars in front of states to get them to “voluntarily” adopt whatever the CCSSI produces. Quite simply, were the public to find out that national standards are essentially an untested drug being slipped down their throats, they might object. And nothing, it seems, is more important to the national standards crowd than ensuring that that doesn’t happen.