High, Comparable Standards Aren’t Being Dictated Down to Parents – Parents Are Calling for Them


Writing on the CATO at Liberty blog, Neal McCluskey argues that parents are rejecting high, comparable education standards because they were foisted on states by the federal government.

“We all saw populist frustration boil over with the federally coerced Common Core national curriculum standards. Average Americans rejected the Core over paternalistic, ‘you just don’t realize this is good for you’ objections of establishment types on both the left and right.”

However, McCluskey’s position ignores the fact that implementation of higher standards is, and has always been, a state-led effort. Parents overwhelmingly favor high standards and high-quality assessments to ensure their children are prepared for college and careers. Far from being pushed on parents, families are calling for higher standards, no matter what they’re called.

Recent polling reiterates that parents want challenging learning goals to prepare their kids to succeed after high school. That’s exactly what most states are delivering. A Harvard study notes, “In short, the Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States.”

State and local leaders have seen past the rhetoric and redoubled their commitment to rigorous, comparable education standards. Instead of starting from scratch, states are reviewing and tailoring their learning goals to meet students’ needs, all while keeping the bar high for both schools and students.

“That fits with the original intent of the Common Core, which was always meant to set a floor, not a ceiling, for academic progress,” Jim Cowen explains. “No matter what label policymakers attach to them, parents and educators support rigorous, consistent education standards that fully prepare students for the challenges of college and to compete in a global economy.”

Implementation of higher standards has not been perfect, but states are beginning to see the results of their commitment. This year, a majority of states made significant improvements in math and English language arts proficiency during the second year of assessments aligned to higher standards. Importantly, some of the biggest gains were made by third-grade students, who have spent most or all of their academic careers learning to meet more rigorous expectations.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law late last year and forever replaces No Child Left Behind, leaves no uncertainty that states and districts are firmly in control of their education standards and accountability systems. The law explicitly prohibits the federal government from incentivizing or otherwise pressuring states to adopt any set of standards or assessments.

With that increased control comes increased responsibility, cautions New Mexico’s Education Secretary, Hanna Skandera. “Under ESSA, states have been given broad new authority over the steps they take to produce better outcomes. [Improvements states are making] send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality tests.”