In Defense of the Common Core Standards

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are under attack from the right and the left. Liberals fear that policy makers will use the standards to punish teachers. Conservatives believe the Common Core is an attempt by the federal government to take over schools. Supporters of the Core have their own bipartisan alliance that argues standards will help eliminate achievement gaps. Standards can increase coordination between diverse sets of stakeholders which aids in school reform. Well implemented education standards increase innovation, simplify the transfer of ideas, and improve personalized learning systems.

The economics literature on standards demonstrates the value of this approach to innovation. In the broadest sense standards are a set of technical specifications reached through a formal negotiation and agreement process. There is no universally accepted definition or typology for standards across different sectors. Few have engaged in the intellectual exercise of comparing the effects of standards across sectors. The way teachers use education standards bears little in common with how other professionals like electricians use standards. However, understanding the similarities and differences between standards in other sectors and in education helps elucidate their potential impact in education.

In this paper, Joshua Bleiberg and Darrell West mount a fresh defense of the Common Core and argue that there are numerous benefits to standards. They draw on lessons from economics and point out that education standards create a platform that encourages the development of groundbreaking new ideas. In the conclusion, they recommend several policy solutions that could help maximize the effect of standards on education.

Policy Recommendations

  • The Common Core should vigorously enforce their licensing agreement. In the past textbook writers and others have inappropriately claimed that they aligned course content. Supporters of standards based reform should recognize that low quality content could sink the standards and enforce their copyright accordingly.

  • The federal government should provide financial incentives for the adoption of Common Core. Additionally, action from the Congress could help with inappropriate labeling of course materials.

  • All levels of government should stay agnostic to curriculum but not to the implementation of standards. Curriculum choices should remain the purview of educators. However, states and the federal government should pay close attention to implementation. Governments should give schools the time and flexibility they need to implement the Common Core.

  • The leaders of the Common Core need to engage teacher unions. Teachers support rigorous standards but rightfully worry about rushed implementation and overly harsh accountability policies. Unequivocal support of the Common Core from the NEA and the AFT would serve as a huge boon to the process of national standards. Standards work best when all users believe in the value of the system.