Common Core State Standards Initiative, national standards, federal takeover of education—whatever you want to call it, we at the Friedman Foundation are frequently asked about it.
Here is our position: “Parents should have the primary power and authority over their children’s education, which includes both the power to choose any school that they deem best and the control over the type and quality of school they pick. Ultimately, the power of parents trumps the desire for common standards, particularly standards decided by either state or federal education experts or bureaucrats.”
Our stance focuses primarily on parents, not governments, as the real units of change. But that doesn’t mean all the arguments made by both the proponents and opponents of Common Core are invalid or wrong.
Do we need to ensure our children are competitive in a global economy? Definitely. Do we need to test our children to help parents understand their proficiency and growth? Most parents think so, and that’s why virtually all private schools use privately developed, voluntary standardized tests. (Check back next Wednesday, November 13, for our release of “More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools” for further insight into parent opinions on standardized tests.)
Our view rests on two equally important philosophical principles that are guided by the life and legacy of our founders, Milton and Rose D. Friedman.
1. Parental choice is needed first and foremost to drive change in K-12 education. School choice is a far more effective way to improve educational outcomes than centralized standards imposed from above. A main concern with Common Core is that it could restrict entrepreneurship in education, so that parents will have fewer and less diverse choices. By contrast, universal school choice can provide a more vibrant system of schooling so that parents will have numerous and more varied high-quality options.
2. Government monopoly doesn’t work, particularly for K-12 education. There are serious and credible people—many whom I admire and trust—who really believe the government will do a good job of implementing Common Core. But that strikes me as against all reason and history. Can the very institution that is largely to blame for the K-12 mess we are in now be the same institution that saves our children? The evidence shows that a centralized, government-owned and -operated industry will never be as productive or effective as a system where parents are truly free to choose.
In the last few years, there have been amazing strides in parental school choice policy. From 2011 to 2013, 14 states created 22 private school choice programs. In 2013 alone, six states adopted nine new programs, three of which were statewide voucher measures for low-income children. On the charter school front, more and more quality schools are being established all across the country, and cities like San Antonio, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis are all working hard to attract the kind of quality charter operators that can scale up quickly. Choice is leading to more varied options for families.
In the end, the debate over standards comes down to who you think should have final say over education: parents or government. Some will say you can be on both sides, but when parents want one thing for their children and the government wants something different, one or the other is going to make the final decision. Once we say government makes the final decision, the issue that really counts has already been decided.