Back Education Standards that Work

Published November 15, 2010

Jason Wermers’ fine piece of education reporting (“Academic measures differ from state to state,” Nov. 12), about South Carolina’s K-12 academic standards being higher than Georgia’s and most other states’ — at least before Columbia lowered the bar somewhat in 2009 — provokes a thought about the potential uses of comparative data on education.

The intensity of competition in SEC football — Gamecocks vs. Bulldogs, and all the other rivalries — is well-known. Suppose even a fraction of that pride went toward placing No. 1 among sister states, or indeed all 50 states, in school performance standards and outcomes.

Because of technological advances, education ratings are now being done with more precision than college football’s computer-generated BCS standings. Recently, for instance, Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek and associates unveiled an experimental model whereby, with a few clicks of a computer mouse, an education consumer can find how his state stacks up against not only other states but various high-achieving nations in teaching advanced mathematics.

Sadly, Mr. Wermers reports further that Georgia and South Carolina recently have joined many other states in agreeing to jettison their own standards in favor of the common, national standards and tests for math and English being bankrolled by the federal government and big foundations.

Once that process is complete, how can one state challenge, and be challenged by, other states? How can consumers be certain that the centralized system is not being dumbed down to a mediocre level so its architects can make themselves look good?

After registering their disgust with bossy big government Nov. 2, are Americans really ready to give up on federalism as the playing field of democracy?

Robert Holland


(The writer is senior fellow for education policy at the Heartland Institute, a public policy think tank.)