Parental Choice, Not Common Core, Is the Key to Academic Accountability

The more the public learns, the less it likes Common Core national standards, based on findings from various polls throughout this year. Two new national polls add even more fuel to the anti-Common Core fire.

The first by Gallup and PDK International notes that last year only around one-third (34 percent) of American adults had even heard about Common Core. That figure has jumped to 81 percent this year, and fully 60 percent of respondents now say they oppose it—largely because the standards are rigid and lack academic rigor.

The second poll was released by Education Next. It finds a smaller proportion of Americans opposes Common Core, but that opposition has doubled from 13 percent last year to 26 percent this year. Meanwhile, about one out of five Americans remain “undecided,” 22 percent last year and 21 percent this year.

Significantly, the Education Next poll shows that opposition to Common Core national standards is intensifying across the board. Comparing results from 2013 to 2014, opposition among Democrats grew from 10 percent to 17 percent. Opposition among Republicans more than doubled from 16 percent to 37 percent, while opposition among teachers more than tripled from 12 percent to 40 percent.

The phrasing of the questions relating to Common Core matters and helps explain differences in the results, and Education Next Editor-In-Chief Paul E. Peterson explains that while Americans generally favor academic standards, the term Common Core is “toxic,” responsible for around a 15 percentage point public approval drop.

Most Americans would agree that students should achieve basic levels of literacy and numeracy, as well as have working knowledge and skills relating to civics, history, and science. That doesn’t mean, however, that the federal government has the constitutional authority or the expertise to impose national standards.

Common Core proponents insist that the standards are rigorous and prepare students for college and careers. Not true. Leading experts have publicly denounced those claims (see here, here, and here).

But the solution is not, as American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten suggests, to abandon essential objective assessments that gauge students’ academic achievement. In a prepared response to the Gallup/PDK poll release, Weingarten stated:

Given this path, support [for Common Core] will continue to drop as people no longer see standards or standardized tests as helping children…They, like many teachers, see them instead as setting up public education for failure.

Standards and standardized tests do not set up public education for failure. Not educating students does.

Most Americans favor measuring student achievement against objective standards—not the say so of dues-paying, unionized teachers. In fact, as the Education Next poll suggests, the last thing most Americans want is a return to a by-gone era when parents and the taxpaying public were kept in the dark about how well (or poorly) American students were actually performing in core subjects.

On the other hand, federally-driven “accountability” under No Child Left Behind and its previous iterations dating back to 1965 resulted in student achievement scores based largely on games not actual gains in student learning.

As long as the federal government and powerful political special interest groups control education, parents and the taxpaying public will remain in the dark about just how well students are actually doing in school. Teachers’ union leaders fight objective measures of student achievement. Washington politicians and unelected bureaucrats devise elaborate, expensive testing regimes that purport to be objective, but in reality they’re based on benchmarks that are so low significant numbers of students are deemed performing when, in fact, they have not mastered basic knowledge and skills. (See also here, here, and here).

For all the PR to the contrary, federal laws intending to improve accountability in education have failed because parents are not empowered to choose their children’s schools. Even assuming publicly reported student and school performance results were accurate, that information is not actionable. Chances are, parents whose children have remained trapped in failing schools don’t need a federally mandated testing regime to tell them that. They’re likely painfully aware of that reality already.

Parental choice in education is the best approach to genuine accountability in education.

Let parents pick the schools they prefer for their children. Most will likely choose schools that regularly inform them of their children’s academic progress based on objective assessments that tell them how well their children are performing relative to their peers nationally and worldwide.

And those tests already exist. Homeschooling parents, for example, use a wide variety of rigorous and cost-effective assessments, including beginning and end-of-year tests to measure their children’s academic progress, standardized tests that assess basic skills, and norm-referenced tests so parents can compare their child’s performance to that of students nationwide.

There’s also no shortage of Advance Placement exams, college entrance exams, pre-college entrance exams, and international assessments can also be used to see how well students perform relative to their peers in dozens of countries around the world.

And, let’s not forget, standards previously in place by states such as California, Indiana, and Massachusetts were already widely considered among the strongest nationwide, so there was no need to reinvent the wheel with Common Core if improving student achievement were truly the goal.

Better incentives, not more imposed mandates, are what schools need to implement reliable measures of student achievement. Given the option, most parents would probably choose schools that test students in core subjects. Some parents may want more testing, some parents may not want any at all, but schools would feel powerful pressure to meet parents’ demand for reliable information about how their children are performing academically if the alternative is losing students and their associated funding to other schools.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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