Over the past decades, testing has played a central role in justifying and brining about some of the most controversial reforms, such as school choice via charter schools, merit pay for teachers, and military academies for inner city youth. But possibly the most politically significant reform of all is the adoption of national standards and assessments. Whatever one may think of “choice” and “merit pay” and “boot strapping,” they are undoubtedly the legacy of Anglo-American political thought.
But the idea — let alone the adoption of — a national curriculum appears as a sharp break with the foundation of the American Republic, the commitment to “state’s rights,” to decentralization and a relatively weak central government.
Thus begins the introduction of my forthcoming book, Testing for Tyranny: The Political Significance of a National Curriculum and Testing Regime in the United States.
At present, the push to implement the so-called Common Core Standards (not federal, not national, as Diane Ravitch would have it, but “common,” and so the choice of language is significant) represents a turning point in American history. There are many questions that must be answered about this initiative, the most important one being this: Whose standards are they? Whose interests do they serve?
This question is being posed from a variety of perspectives. For example, a Tea Party activist noted this:
The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (collectively, NGA Center/CCSSO), as the owners of the Common Core State Standards (College- and Career-Readiness Standards and K-12 Standards in English Language Arts and Math), grant this license to the Licensee identified below, subject to the terms set forth herein. The Common Core State Standards are protected by copyright and/or other applicable law, and any use of the Common Core State Standards other than as authorized under this License is prohibited.
As a parent, where will you go if you feel a change should be made to the ELA or math content to be taught to the students in your neighborhood and community schools? To the school? the local school board? to the state education dept or the state school board? to the federal government? Sorry, it is out their hands. They no longer have control over the content for ELA and math that is to be taught to the students in the states that have adopted the CCSS.
This line of questioning might help explain the choice of language and the administrative mechanisms used to push the standards. If they were national, this notion of ownership would seem counter productive (who owns the American Flag)? If they were federal, clearly they are in the control of the federal government, owned by it, but presumably on behalf of the people as a whole. But they are merely “common” — ushered in and controlled by an “association” of associations that is neither federally constituted nor bound to a state, a “public/private partnership” of government leaders and business interests; an entity that does not report to a legislature or even a defined constituency.
And now the Schlechty Center releases, Whose Standards Are They?
Offering a broad minded and thoughtful presentation of standards and their role in education, the paper is particularly significant for the guidance it provides school personnel in organizing discussions about the Common Core Standards in their schools and communities. It offers a concrete guide for evaluating the Common Core Standards, affirming the right of communities to have a say over the nature and function of the education provided to their youth.
Asking the “who decides” question is by far the most important question to ask when examining the Common Core initiative. Discussions narrowly fixated on implementation, or even concerns about whether national standards and tests will improve education, serve to veil consideration of how contemporary education reform (such as the Common Core) serves to re-articulate governing arrangements such that the vast majority — parents, teachers, administrators, local school boards, and youth — are excluded from involvement in decisions that directly affect their lives, and their future.