Very few Utahns are qualified to critique standards used to produce engineering designs for bridges we drive over each day, yet many residents suddenly feel qualified to critique a new and improved set of education standards common among states. For some unfathomable reason, everyone seems to believe he or she is an expert on education, whether or not they have read a single peer-reviewed article in an educational research journal.
Nothing positive will happen if we allow the debate around the Common Core standards — created by professional educators and others with relevant expertise — to be controlled by people who, while well-meaning, are thoroughly unqualified to judge the quality of the standards.
Take, as an example, a website established by a group that opposes the Common Core, which includes on its front page a number of quotes critical of the standards. On closer inspection, most of these quotes are from state and federal politicians — people without training, experience or credentials in education that would enable them to meaningfully critique the quality of the standards.
Critics' lack of qualifications has significantly shaped their claims about the Common Core in Utah. They decry the origins of the standards, they condemn the process used to create the standards, they even question the legality of the standards. They criticize the standards in every manner except the one that matters most — the quality of the standards. It is clear from their statements that most critics have not engaged in even a basic comparison of the Common Core with Utah's previous standards — suggesting the image of someone who passionately asserts that broccoli tastes bad, even though he has never tried it.
The Common Core standards are superior to Utah's former standards. They focus on the development of knowledge and skills useful in life outside of school. They are grounded in the complexities and richness of the real world, instead of contrived academic exercises. They demand more from students than previous standards.
Why would we suppose that the best minds in Utah could create a set of standards better than a set created by the best minds from across the country — including those in Utah? How do we cede local control or trample states' rights by admitting that a group that included people outside of Utah wrote a better set of standards? If we were to follow this thinking to its logical end, we would only drive cars built in Utah, use computers manufactured in Utah and read books written in Utah.
Common standards are extremely empowering. Imagine, for a moment, if every state in the country used differently shaped power outlets. Every manufacturer of TVs, computers and other appliances would have to make 50 versions with custom power cords for each state. Many products would be unavailable in Utah. Fortunately, state adoptions of a common power standard have enabled a nationwide market, making it possible for Utahans to buy the best products anywhere and use them anywhere.
Now, remember the U.S. before the Common Core, when every state had its own isolated education standards. Entrepreneurs, researchers and other innovators only had motivations to pay attention to Texas, California, Florida and other large markets. Utah was ignored and left to adopt products designed for other states. By adopting the Common Core, Utah's children and teachers now have access to a nationwide market of commercial and noncommercial innovations, which give them access to the very best educational materials and experiences available anywhere. Do we really want Utah to pull out of this nationwide market?
Let's be honest: The Common Core is not perfect. But let's also be clear: Adopting the Common Core is the best thing Utah can do for children with regard to educational standards.
David Wiley is an associate professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University and a senior fellow at the National Center for Research on Advanced Information and Digital Technologies (Digital Promise). His views do not necessarily represent those of BYU or Digital Promise. He can be reached at davidwiley.org/.