Alright, here is the first topic of discussion and I’m eager to hear your thoughts. What will be the impact of national standards on Catholic schools and what should it be?
First some context:
The New York Times reported on Wednesday of this week, 27 states (now 29) have adopted national standards only 2 months after they were presented. Their quick adoption is due to the DOE offering more points on Race to the Top for those states that opt in.
Some folks are FOR the national standards, including the Gates Foundation and Fordam’s Flypaper blog. Checker Finn and Mike Petrelli’s article in the National Review online summarizes the “for” position well, while explaining the challenges that lie ahead.
It certainly helps that the new standards were created by a voluntary partnership of 48 states, not by the federal government. But it’s also true that the Common Core standards are remarkably strong, vastly better than the standards most states have developed independently over the past 15 years. Yesterday, our institute released a 370-page study that finds the Common Core standards to be clearly superior to the existing English standards of 37 states and the existing math standards of 39.
Anxiety will surely rise when school kids across the land begin (three or four years hence) to take tests linked to these standards, and even more when those test results start to determine promotion from fifth to sixth grade or graduation from high school. (The development of those tests will soon start, aided by $350 million of federal stimulus funds.) But without tests and results-based accountability, along with solid curricula, quality textbooks, and competent teaching, standards alone have no traction in real classrooms.
The folks over at Jay P. Greene’s blog are much more skeptical. They have weighed in on the issue AGAINST national standards here, here, here, and especially here. Their position can best be summarized with these remarks from Jay Greene:
The answer is not to have bigger, more centralized regulations. The answer is to maintain the proper incentives by empowering market forces, which also serve to keep the regulatory framework honest.
Even though it is messy and imperfect, we need to decentralize power in education rather than centralize it. We need to do so for the same reason the Constitution decentralizes power — to prevent abuses and tyranny that inevitably arise when power is unchecked and concentrated. We need to decentralize power in education to allow market mechanisms to operate. We need to decentralize power to recognize the legitimate diversity of needs and approaches that exist in our educational system.
So, on the one side is the argument for quality common standards linked to tests which should increase accountability and drive performance. The other side argues for preserving diversity and plurality in the system and worries about the corruption of too much centralized influence.
Now what about Catholic schools? Catholic schools do not have standardized curriculum, but often follow, to a greater or lesser degree, the standards of the states where they are located. Nearly all Catholic schools already take nationally normed tests and do very well on them in terms of comparative performance. Will national standards increase pressure on Catholic schools to fall into line? Would this be a good thing in bringing coherence to a VERY decentralized system that is often regarded as non-transparent and difficult to compare easily with public schools? Or would this threaten the autonomy and diversity of Catholic schools? Would it put too much pressure on secular performance indicators and threaten their commitment to a robust Catholic identity and sufficient control over their own curriculum? What about Catholic schools that are participating in voucher and tax-credit programs?
A lot to think about here, folks, and I’d be most interested in hearing your thoughts!