The alternative to this reform is not an ideal ideological world in which state and local control has resulted in excellence. The main problem of American primary and secondary education is one that conservatives should understand: It is a market with insufficient information and choices, resulting in poor quality. We don't have standards and measurements that allow us to adequately compare the outcomes between students, between schools and between states. So many states can hide behind dumbed-down standards. Many school districts can betray minority children for generations without scrutiny or consequence. And the whole system can get away with leaving millions of American students unprepared for global competition.
Conservatives should stand for political principle. They should also reject the temptation to elevate one principle above all others, regardless of conditions and circumstances. Localism is not the answer to all our educational problems. And resistance to standards puts ideological conservatives in some questionable company. In fighting the Common Core, some tea party activists have made common cause with elements of the progressive education blob that always resist rigor, measurement and accountability. This alliance increasingly constitutes the mediocrity caucus in American politics.
Localism is an important conservative principle, but so is excellence. And the measure of a successful education policy is the demonstrated presence of actual education.
Michael Gerson's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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