Aaron Gushin | State Budget Solutions 

The national drive to improve K-12 education, and Common Core in particular, have captured the attention of those who believe in a strong defense of the 10th amendment and local control of education. The overriding issue, from a states’ rights perspective, is not Common Core’s lesson plans or educational standards. It is rather the fact that these standards are being implemented without sufficient input or oversight from the states.
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Advocates of the new K-12 standards have repeatedly offered assurances that Common Core is not a federal mandate – and this is technically true. It is misleading, however, to claim that the states have any real freedom to maneuver under the Core. The Obama Administration’s directives have closely tied educational funding to states’ willingness to adopt methods which align with the new standards.

Common Core was largely developed and championed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Department of Education under Obama has been filled with a number of former Gates Foundation staffers. Gates and Obama are doubtless acting in what they deem to be the country’s best interests, but even the best of ideas should be enacted with care.

By going full steam ahead with Common Core, schools are denied the freedom to account for their unique circumstances, or to make corrections as needed. Rather than imposing a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution, the federal government should allow states and localities to be the drivers of innovation.

Another troubling aspect of the Common Core is that it may wind up eroding the relative autonomy of charter schools. A number of charter schools have opted into the system voluntarily, embracing the Core as a high-quality national standard. However, if individual charters believe they can do better, why not let them try? Parents would then determine whether the standards align with the needs of their own children.

The diverse approaches of various choice schools – whether funded by charters, vouchers or tax credits – have led to spectacular successes as well as some failures. But failure is nothing more than a signal that change is needed. And the demonstrated successes offer models for other schools to emulate. Creating a uniform system of K-12 education needlessly disrupts this evolutionary process of competitive federalism.

When the freedom of states to enact differentiated policies is constricted; and when their role as “the laboratories of democracy” is therefore limited, the whole country suffers. Admittedly, a few states might do better under a federally-driven system in the very short run. In the long run, however, the inability to discover and follow new paths to improved educational outcomes will lead only to nationwide mediocrity.

Aaron Gushin is a policy intern for State Budget Solutions. 

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