Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards

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The argument for national curriculum standardssounds simple: set high standards, makeall schools meet them, and watch Americanstudents achieve at high levels. It is straightforwardand compelling, and it is driving a seachange in American education policy.

Unfortunately, setting high standards andgetting American students to hit them isextremely difficult. Politically powerful interestgroups must be overcome. Crippling conflictsbetween different religious, ethnic, and ideologicalfactions must be avoided. And a culture thatis generally averse to an intense focus on academicsmust be transformed. These challengeshelp to explain why the research on nationalstandards is both very limited and inconclusive.

But what if the research were to clearly showthat having national standards leads to superiorperformance on international tests? Still,there would not be compelling evidence thatnational standards produce optimal outcomes;economic growth, as well as personal fulfillment,could very well require an educationfocused on much more than just high testscores.

It appears that the route to successful educationgoes in the opposite direction of nationalstandards; it goes toward universal schoolchoice. Only a free market can produce the mixof high standards, accountability, and flexibilitythat is essential to achieving optimal educationaloutcomes.