While the costs of national standards are apparent, the benefits are dubious. Advocates of Common Core often point to the fact that many of the nations that outperform the United States on international standardized tests, like the Programme or International Student Assessment (PISA), have national standards. However, as my Cato Institute colleague Neal McCluskey detailed in his report Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards, it is also true that most of the nations that underperform the United States have national standards. There is no correlation between having national standards and producing high‐performing students. Moreover, most of these nations are much smaller and more demographically homogenous. Indeed, the only two large and diverse nations to consistently outperform the U.S. are Canada and Australia, neither of which has had national standards (though Australia is now in the process of developing and implementing them).3
By contrast, there is compelling evidence that educational freedom and choice improve student outcomes. Domestically, 11 of 12 random‐assignment studies—the gold standard of social science research—found that educational choice programs, like Ohio’s school voucher programs, improved outcomes for some or all categories of students.4 Globally, my boss Andrew J. Coulson has examined the results of over 150 international, statistical comparisons of education systems. His study found that private‐sector schools consistently outperform government‐run schools, and that the most market‐like and least regulated education systems performed the best.5
Educational choice fosters innovation and diversity by putting parents in charge. That gives space to providers to develop new ways of educating diverse children that might not fit the pre‐existing mold. Parents can choose schools offering an education that is traditional or progressive, content‐rich or skills‐based, STEM‐focused or liberal arts. They can choose schools that offer Saxon math or Singapore math, that are Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio, and so on. Parents can then evaluate which approaches work best for their children and which do not. Over time, as Coulson’s evidence suggests, this market process weeds out ineffective approaches and encourages the proliferation of more effective approaches.
All children are unique. There is no reason to expect that all students who happened to be born in the same year should proceed at the same pace in every subject. Moreover, there is no single best way to educate a child or to measure educational progress. The absence of government‐imposed standards does not imply a lack of any standards at all. Rather, it would create space for competing standards.
Mr. Chairman, honorable members of the committee, if you want to foster diversity and innovation in education, the answer lies not in greater standardization and conformity, but in greater freedom and choice. And if you want to strengthen accountability, the best form of accountability is directly to parents who are empowered to choose the education providers that best meet their children’s needs—and leave those that do not.
Thank you and I look forward to your questions.
1Jay P. Greene, “The Political Virtue of Choice,” Jay P. Greene’s Blog. May 13, 2014. http://jaypgreene.com/2014/05/13/the-political-virtue-of-choice/
2James Shuls, “Constructive Criticism for Common Core Constructivism Deniers,” Jay P. Greene’s Blog. March 21, 2013. http://jaypgreene.com/2013/03/21/constructive-criticism-for-common-core-constructivism-deniers/
3For a break down of the testing data, see Neal McCluskey, “Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards,” Cato Policy Analysis no. 661, February 17, 2010, pp. 8–9.
4Greg Forster, “Win‐Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. April 17, 2013.
5Andrew Coulson, “Comparing Public, Private and Market Schools: The International Evidence,” The Journal of School Choice, Vol. 3, 2009, pp. 31–54.