August 27, 2013 1:52PM

Fordham Study Shows “Common Core” Unnecessary

The Fordham Institute released today a ("groundbreaking") study titled "What Parents Want," which finds that:

nearly all parents seek schools with a solid core curriculum in reading and math; an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; and the development in students of good study habits, strong critical thinking skills, and excellent verbal and written communication skills. But some parents also prefer specializations and emphases that are only possible in a system of school choice.

That summary could just as easily describe chapter 1 of my 1999 book Market Education, which reviewed 20 years of public opinion research on people's educational goals and came to the same conclusion. So far so good.

Upon (re-)discovering that parents already share a "solid core" of educational expectations, do Fordham's Michael Petrilli and Checker Finn reluctantly abandon their erstwhile attachment to the government-backed standards and testing known as "Common Core"? After all, in a free marketplace with lots of overlap in consumer demands, there will be substantial overlap in what providers deliverall voluntarily; no need for government nudging. [I am shocked, shocked, to discover that Apple puts a web browser on its iPhone, similar to the one on my Android phone!?! Even without a government mandate!]

Strangely, but not unexpectedly, that is not what Petrilli and Finn elect to do. On the contrary, they conclude that the freely-occurring commonality among parents' demands "bodes well for policy initiatives such as the Common Core State Standards, which are designed to deliver much of that."

Translation: families would pursueand educators would thus providea common core of studies voluntarily, therefore, governments should compel educators to adhere to a particular set of standards cooked up by a group of bureaucrats and arm-twisted into place by the federal government. Because, really, when has anything pursued voluntarily not been improved by the addition of government compulsion?

For those who want to believe that the state must control what goes on in classrooms, no amount of evidence will ever convince them otherwise. But for the rest of the population, Fordham's study will go a long way toward showing that efforts like "Common Core" are, at best, superfluous. And it is certainly not the only evidence of this fact. That same message is driven home by decades of modern scientific research and by millennia of education history. Indeed in the birthplace of Western civilization, the government played no role in education and yet a common core of studies evolved naturally in its free educational marketplace, in response to shared parental demand. The results were remarkable. As I wrote in Market Education: The Unknown History:

Athenian social and political life was plagued at times by many of the same flaws that confront us today and that we have battled against in our own recent past: slavery, sexism, and belligerent foreign policy among them..., but we can say this: Athenian parents had complete discretion over the content and manner of their children's education, and these children went on to create a culture responsible for some of the greatest advances in art, science, and human liberty in history. ---p. 49