Common Core: National Education Standards and the Threat to Democracy

Oct 15, 2018 by

by Nicholas Tampio 
Johns Hopkins, 216 pages, $24.95

In this slim volume, political ­science professor Nicholas Tampio clearly and succinctly analyzes the kinds of curricula and tests used in schools in the Common Core era.

The Common Core (which affects “nearly every aspect of education policy”) was nationalized before anyone had tried it, “without real robust debate,” a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation informant told researchers. The Gates Foundation bankrolled Common Core—and supplied the Obama administration with several employees to push states into this initiative.

Tampio finds that such policy-making endangers self-government, which he approvingly calls “democracy.” Despite his progressive politics and education philosophy, his basic argument, grounded in James ­Madison’s cautions in the Federalist Papers, should be attractive to both left and right: “National education standards empower one faction to impose their education vision on the country. They alienate citizens from the local schools and civic life in general.”

He samples prominent education programs, revealing that “every definition of ‘minimal’ education standards is controversial. Reasonable people disagree over how to teach literacy, numeracy, science, history, and sexual health.” Thus, there are only two viable options: Force everyone into one system regardless of their differences, or allow people to make their own education choices.

Common Core supporters took the first approach. Tampio supports the second. As he explains it, “national education standards can ­create an educational monoculture that has bad pedagogical and civic consequences.”

—Joy Pullmann

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