National Standards Report Makes a Leap Too Far
April 21, 2010

Cato report accurately critiques national standards movement, but makes unsupported leap to free-market solutions, review finds

Contact: Teri Battaglieri (517) 203-2940;
William J. Mathis (802) 383-0058;

EAST LANSING, Mi., (April 21, 2010) – A recent Cato Institute report even-handedly and correctly highlights flaws in the push for national curriculum standards. But its leap from those findings to the solution of a free-market education system is unfounded.

In a Think Twice review released today, William Mathis examines the recent Cato report Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Standards. Dr. Mathis is managing director of the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The Cato report identifies two significant criticisms of the national "common core" standards push that has been endorsed by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The first is that there is no strong consensus about the content of such standards. Second, and more important, there is little or no evidence that such standards promote improved achievement in student learning.

Mathis notes the report's relatively balanced presentation of the case for and against standards. "The report's review of the current political situation on national standards is succinct and generally fair," he writes. "The arguments for national standards are accurately provided. The weak direct evidence in favor of national standards is reported and the scarcity of relevant findings is noted." Evidence on the effectiveness of standards-based accountability can be interpreted in various ways, Mathis notes, but he concludes that Cato's skeptical treatment "is fairly presented."

The report falls apart, Mathis writes, when it makes an unsupported "leap to free-market solutions" for education. "The literature review supporting this assertion is thin (a half page), and the sources used are limited." So is the entire section of the report devoted to "support for educational freedom" (school choice). While couched as a research presentation, the work falls short of research standards.

"As a critique of the national standards movement, the report serves a valuable purpose," Mathis concludes. But to go from there to claiming that free-market education is the logical next step "is the equivalent of saying that since elephants can't fly, frogs will."  

Find William Mathis's review and a link to the Cato report on the web at:

About The Think Twice Project
The Think Twice project provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. It is a collaboration of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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