Chester Finn

The Conservative Case for the Common Core

Writing last about the “war against the Common Core,” I suggested that those English language arts and math standards arrived with four main assets. (In case you’re disinclined to look, they boil down to rigor, voluntariness, portability, and comparability.)

Let me now revisit a fifth potential asset, which is also the main reason that small-government conservatives should favor the Common Core or other high-quality “national standards”: This is the best path toward getting Uncle Sam and heavy-handed state governments to back off from micro-managing how schools are run and to return that authority to communities, individual schools, teachers, and parents.

It’s the path to getting “tight-loose” right in American K-12 education, unlike NCLB, which has it backward. (I refer to the well-known management doctrine that large organizations with many parts should be “tight about ends, loose about means.”) The proper work of conservatives going forward is to stop doing battle with the Common Core and instead do their utmost to ensure that the “loose” part gets done right. This could also be the path toward a viable political compromise on NCLB/ESEA reauthorization.

Some on the Right don’t yet see any need for compromise because they expect to be in the driver’s seat in both houses of Congress and the Oval Office after November. Maybe that will happen. Maybe John Kline will have his way in the 113th Congress and at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., meaning that future federal K-12 dollars will be turned over to states with essentially no strings attached.

But I wouldn’t stake our kids’ future on the election working out that way. And even if it were to, there’s never yet been an ESEA reauthorization that wasn’t bipartisan to some extent. Which suggests to me that compromise is going to be needed and “tight-loose” is the right basis for it.

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