Hubris Core

It may not seem necessary to say these two things, but here goes: (1) No person or group of people are omniscient, and (2) all people are different. Why do I state these realities? Because Common Core supporters sometimes seem to need reminders.

Writing on his New York Times blog, the New America Foundation’s Kevin Carey takes Donald Trump to task for saying that if elected he would eliminate the Common Core. Fair enough, though just as Washington strongly coerced adoption of the Core – a reality Carey deceptively sidesteps by saying states “voluntarily” adopted it – the feds could potentially attach money to dropping it. But that would be no more constitutional than the initial coercion, and the primary coercive mechanism – the Race to the Top – was basically a one-shot deal (though reinforced to an appreciable extent by No Child Left Behind waivers).

Carey is also reasonably suspicious of Trump’s suggestion that local control of education works best. Contrary to what Carey suggests, we don’t have good evidence that state or federal control is better than local – meaningful local control has been withering away for probably over a century, and some research does support it – but it is certainly the case that lots of districts have performed poorly and suffer from waste, paralysis, etc. But then we get this:

But states and localities, in a sense, don’t actually have the ability to set educational standards, even if they choose to. The world around us ultimately determines what students need to learn — the demands of highly competitive and increasingly global labor markets, the admissions requirements of colleges and universities, and the march of scientific progress.

The only choice local schools have is whether they will try to meet those expectations. The Common Core is simply a way of organizing and articulating standards that already exist, for the benefit of students, parents and teachers, so that schooling makes sense when children move between different grades, schools, districts and states.

Oh, the Core hubris! While it is true that all people have to respond to the world around them – no man nor district is an island – it is confidence to a fault to suggest that the Common Core has captured exactly what labor markets, colleges, and “the march of scientific progress” demand. At the very least, proof of that would be greatly appreciated – some content experts certainly disagree – but even heaps of evidence about what exists now cannot demonstrate that the Core also anticipates the demands made by future progress. And is it truly realistic to imply that all people face the same demands? The student who wants to become a physicist? A welder? An accountant? A manicurist? A park ranger. A…you get the point.

The irony is that this sort of argument for the Core is perfectly in line with what a lot of people seem to like about Trump: He tells them he’ll just make stuff happen, no need to go deeper! Indeed, Carey even invokes “American greatness” in arguing for the Core. Sound familiar?

While I have my concerns about the content of the Core, I am not an expert on curriculum and think there may well be excellent components to it. I also, however, know enough about humanity to know that no one is omniscient, all people are unique individuals, and a single solution in a complex world is rarely as perfect as supporters would have us believe.