A Standard Con (2010 edition)

Jay Greene and Joanne Jacobs discuss standards. Both pay due homage to Cato's Neal McCluskey. The comment below appears at Greene's place and Joanne's place, somewhat modified.

Support for curriculum standards proceeds from magical thinking. The fundamental flaw in the argument for standards is that neither children nor their future career paths are standard. The education industry is no more likely a candidate for national standards than is the restaurant industry or the shoe industry. Imposed standards are utterly inappropriate for an industry that would generate a more harmonious result if utterly free of external control, beyond individual parent’s desires and provider’s capabilities, for very young children, and students’ desires and instructors’ capabilities, for older children and young adults.

This view has empirical support. Years ago I took the grades which the Fordham Institute and the Education Trust gave to States for their standards, converted these grades into numbers on a 0-4 point scale, and applied the EXCEL correlation function to States’ NAEP 8th grade Math score. The result was negative–the higher the standard the lower the score.

What do people expect curriculum or performance standards to accomplish? What do these words mean?

A measure is an order relation on a set. Ordering students by height is a measure.
A test is a procedure or a device which establishes as measure. Standing back to back and shifting the taller to the right is a test.
A standard is a unit of measurement. A kilogram weight, a meter stick, and a mark on the wall are standards.
Standards impart no magic.

The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education", but then these standards bind students, parents, real classroom teachers, and taxpayers to the State's definition of "education". Standards distract attention from the critical argument: What does society gain from a State presence in the education industry, anyway? Aside from drug abuse, vandalism, and violence, that is.

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