Enforcing conformity is risky

Classroom by Krivosheev Vitaly / Shutterstock.com

Article Highlights

  • #CCSS: minding the price of uniformity could help spare us another bout of “Whoops that’s not what we meant to do!”

    Tweet This

  • Question: Should education standards and funding vary by state?

    Tweet This

  • Enforcing conformity is risky, says @aeieducation Hess re: #ccss.

    Tweet This

Editors Note: This piece first appeared in The New York Times' Room for Debate, The American Way of Learning, in response to the question: Should education standards and funding vary by state?

There are two competing impulses in education. One presumes that there is an optimal model of schooling that Uncle Sam should enforce, good and hard. The other insists that there is no one “right” model of schooling just as there’s no “right” kind of kid, and that schools and school systems should be designed to serve their students and communities. I’m partial to this second view, myself.

What’s that have to do with the question at hand? Well, it’s true that school funding and standards don’t dictate how schools go about the stuff of teaching and learning. And there’s no obvious complaint against schools having equal resources or striving toward a common, rigorous bar when it comes to reading and math.

But things quickly get more complicated for those of us skeptical of the virtues of one-size-fits-all school reform. First, remember the golden rule—“he who has the gold makes the rules”—and that only the federal government can ensure funding equality across states. Of course, long experience teaches that federally funded activities are subjected to increasingly prescriptive federal direction.

Second, common standards are nice in theory, but they only matter when married to common tests. By design, such exams will require that every school, everywhere, cover the prescribed content in the prescribed sequence at the prescribed grade level — or risk winding up in the crosshairs when students test poorly. This will pose challenges, for instance, even for accomplished pilot, innovative or charter schools, if they happen to favor alternative approaches to the scope, sequence, shape and pacing of curricula.

Bottom line: I’m not at all sure that standards and funding should differ by state, but we’d do well to acknowledge that there may be unanticipated, adverse consequences when we seek to prohibit such variation. Given that education “reformers” have shown themselves all too prone to self-righteous groupthink, minding the price of uniformity could help spare us another bout of, “Whoops, that’s not what we meant to do!”

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Frederick M.
Hess

What's new on AEI

To secure southern border, US must lead international effort to stabilize Central America
image The Ryan pro-work, anti-poverty plan: Thomas Aquinas 1, Ayn Rand 0
image Does SNAP support work? Yes and no
image Obama Democrats lose their big bet on health exchanges
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.