The conservative reformers who helped shape the Common Core are trying to make incremental improvements in a deeply flawed system. Many of their conservative opponents are applying a single, abstract principle — an ideological commitment to localism in education. They distrust the federal government, which is understandable in the Obama era. But the Common Core is not a federal approach. It is a national approach created by institutions outside the federal government.
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.