High academic standards encourage high hopes for better educational outcomes. But proposed new standards are generating controversy.

 The National Governors Association and Council for Chief State School Officers announced their draft common academic standards today for K-12 education. President Obama has also made academic standards a priority and supports the proposed core standards. Under the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top (RTTT) competition, adoption of the common core standards weighs into states’ applications. Last week the Department announced 16 state finalists who will compete to receive the first round of Race to the Top grants.  Of those states, only Kentucky has agreed to adopt the common core standards, even though they won’t be finalized until the spring. Georgia will likely adopt them, as well as Maryland, which is not a first-round RTTT finalist.

The common-core standards are intended to replace a “hodgepodge” of state standards. But will academic quality be sacrificed for the sake of consistency? Another concern is whether the federal government is attempting to establish a national curriculum, which is expressly prohibited (See “Federal Control of Education Prohibited,” Sec. 604, p. 90).

States already have academic content standards in place. But standards on paper won’t translate into quality education and improved student learning unless parents are free to choose the schools they believe do the best job for their children. Such freedom puts powerful pressure on schools to hire the best teachers, pay them well, and give them the freedom they need to choose the best instructional materials and methods for ensuring all students learn.