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The "Common Core" Standards Initiative: An Effective Reform Tool?

The Obama administration advocates for education standards designed to make all high school graduates "college- and career-ready." To achieve this end, the administration is exerting pressure on states to adopt content standards, known as the "common core," being developed by the National Governors' Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (NGA/CCSSO). The administration has, for example, called for federal Title I aid to be withheld from states that do not adopt these or comparable standards. To date, 48 states are at least tentatively participating in the standards effort, thus suggesting that the result might become de facto national standards. Standards advocates argue that common standards are necessary for keeping the nation competitive in a global economy. But this brief points out that research does not support this oft-expressed rationale. No studies support a true causal relationship between national standards and economic competitiveness, and at the most superficial level we know that nations with centralized standards generally tend to perform no better (or worse) on international tests than those without. Further, research shows that national economic competitiveness is influenced far more by economic decisions than by test scores.