Debate Club

Common Core Treats Students Like Soulless Widgets

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There is nothing wrong with national-level education yardsticks. We’ve had them for decades: the SAT, Advanced Placement tests, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, etc. What is wrong is imposing one standard on everyone, which ignores that all children are unique and no standards-setters omniscient. But that is exactly what Washington is doing with the Common Core.

[SPECIAL REPORT: A Guide to Common Core] 

First, it is necessary to establish that the Core is largely being imposed by the feds. It is not, as Core supporters insist, “state-led” and “voluntary.”

The Core was created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, but these groups do not represent states. Legislators do, and while people vote for governors, doubtless few, if any, have ever done so based on what they expect a candidate might do in the powerless NGA.

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Next, the impetus behind Core adoption in most states was federal action. To compete for a part of the $4.35-billion Race to the Top purse, states de facto had to adopt the Core. Indeed, Race to the Top required state leaders to promise to adopt the Core before the final version had even been published!

Cementing adoption, the Obama administration gave only two options for states to get waivers from the hated, illogical, No Child Left Behind Act: adopt the Core, or have a state university system certify state standards as “college- and career-ready.”

Topping it all off, the U.S. Department of Education selected and funded two consortia to create national tests to go with the Core.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

On the too-rare occasion when advocates have acknowledged the federal force behind the Core, they have typically implied that the Obama administration acted against their intent that adoption be purely up to states. But in “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Get a World-Class Education” – a report published before Barack Obama became president – the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers implored Washington to offer “a range of tiered incentives,” including funding and regulatory relief, to move states onto national standards. The call was eventually reiterated on the Core’s website, then removed.

Despite advocates’ incessant protestations, the facts are clear: Common Core was federally pushed, just as they requested. This top-down imposition is a huge problem for two fundamental reasons.

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The first is that all children are unique. They learn different things at different rates, and have myriad talents and goals. Yet Common Core, by its very nature, moves all kids largely in lock-step, processing them like soulless widgets. That’s likely a major reason there is no meaningful empirical evidence that national standards produce better outcomes, and education experts across the spectrum have dismissed the Core.

The second basic problem is that no one is omniscient. As the raging debate over the quality of the Core painfully illustrates, even if there could be a one, best standard for all kids, we don’t know what it is. But with a monopoly, no alternative standards will be able to compete, and better ways of doing things won’t be revealed.

So is the Common Core a bad idea? Absolutely. It is a federally coerced, one-size-fits-all regime that ignores basic, human reality.

Neal McCluskey

About Neal McCluskey is the associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

Common Core

Other Arguments

157 Pts
Attempts to Standardize Education Are Doomed to Fail

No – Attempts to Standardize Education Are Doomed to Fail

Matt Kibbe is the President of FreedomWorks.

119 Pts
Common Core Causes Collateral Damage

No – Common Core Causes Collateral Damage

Mike McShane is a research fellow in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

-74 Pts
Common Core's Intent Is Being Undermined

Yes – Common Core's Intent Is Being Undermined

Charles Barone  is policy director of Democrats for Education Reform.

-89 Pts
Adult Problems Aren't More Important Than Student Needs

Yes – Adult Problems Aren't More Important Than Student Needs

Michelle Rhee is CEO at StudentsFirst and former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.

-111 Pts
Keep the Core, but Course Correct to Achieve Its Promise

Yes – Keep the Core, but Course Correct to Achieve Its Promise

Dennis Van Roekel is president of the National Education Association.

-143 Pts
Give Common Core Time to Work

Yes – Give Common Core Time to Work

Jack Markell is in his second term as Governor of Delaware and served as co-chair of the Common Core State Standards initiative.

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