In exchange for federal cash (which actually comes from taxpayers in the states after all) state lawmakers have promised any number of things over the past few decades:

Over-promising and under-delivering seems to be the legacy of the federal government’s “leadership” in education. Major programs of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), currently dubbed No Child Left Behind (NCLB), have not worked, from the Right to Read Program to Goals 2000 to not leaving any child behind academically.

So why will Common Core national standards be different? Spoiler alert: they won’t, no matter what Obama administration officials tell us. A new Education Next analysis seems to confirm the fact that little (besides the price tag) will change under nationalized standards.

Recall that Obama authorized his Department of Education to issue waivers from NCLB accountability and performance provisions in exchange for agreeing to sign on to Common Core national standards. Here’s what Education Next found:

  • Thus far, 45 states have officially adopted Common Core.
  • Fully 37 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) received a waiver as incentive to join the Common Core State and raise their standards in 2009.
  • Yet standards still declined in rigor in 26 states and D.C. between 2009 and 2011.
  • In the period since 2007, there has been little change in state standards overall.
  • A few states have increased the rigor of their standards: Tennessee, West Virginia, New York, Nebraska (a state that has not signed on to Common Core), and Delaware.
  • Still, those gains are offset by significant drops in proficiency standards between 2009 and 2011 in New Mexico, Washington, Hawaii, Montana, and Georgia.

As the Education Next analysis authors explain:

Only 35 percent of U.S. 8th graders were identified as proficient in math by the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). According to the most recent calculations available, the United States stands at the 32nd rank in math among nations in the industrialized world. In reading, the U.S. ranks 17th in the world (see “Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?features, Fall 2011).

The low performance of U.S. students has been attributed to low expectations set by states under the 2002 federal law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which expects all students to reach full proficiency by 2014.

Most states have set their proficiency bars at much lower levels, perhaps because it causes less embarrassment when more students can make it across the proficiency bar, or because it was the easiest way for states to comply with the NCLB requirement to bring all students up to full proficiency.

Don’t expect this reality to change until 1) parents are put fully in charge of their children’s education; 2) taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money and vote to fund parental choice programs that have immediate consequences for failure; and 3) the federal government is shrunk back to its proper constitutional bounds.