Letter: Forcing Schools to Compete

To the Editor:
The Valley News recently featured pieces on Common Core education standards. Barbara Couch (Perspectives, March 30) is optimistic that students’ exposure to the state standards will make them better prepared for the work force. The Valley News editorial (April 2) notes that the Common Core standards were developed as a “fix” to raise overall achievement, along with the Obama administration’s program, Race to the Top, requiring states competing for federal funds to adopt “college and career ready standards.” T. Marll McDonald’s letter March 31 notes that mastery of the standards is “essential for success in college, career and life in today’s global economy.”
Though questions exist about the process used to develop the Common Core standards (that is, lack of field testing), I support the need for uniform standards. However, standards and their adoption need to be put in their place in the educational process. They are not by themselves sufficient to ensure higher achievement. Evidence from the past shows that standards have had little to no effect on student achievement. Common Core advocates believe that effectiveness and alignment with standards are synonymous. But empirical evidence suggests that effectiveness depends more on the selection of curricula, dissemination of promising instructional strategies, and pursuit of other implementation strategies. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has boasted that 45 states voluntarily adopted the Common Core. But he fails to mention that states were required to adopt “college and career ready standards” to be eligible to compete for $4.35 billion in the Race to the Top program. Some states rushed to adopt standards without even seeing a draft. Compliance was further encouraged by tying teacher evaluations to results in the standardized tests aligned with the Common Core, and failure to adopt the standards meant losing federal funding.
To improve school achievement, George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top have relied on competition among school districts and punishment for failure. We continue to be stuck with two notions: to the victor belongs the spoils and “every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost” (a 16th-century proverb). We should know better than this.
Bob Scobie