THE BLOG
10/01/2014 10:21 am ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

Common Core: A Solid Policy Behind an Unpopular Name

Policy wonks like substance, much as the production division likes shiny new products and technical innovation. But substance doesn't sell itself, and successful global brands have extensive marketing efforts designed to maintain a positive image.

Despite best efforts, however, brands sometimes run into problems - think Malaysian Airlines - and once a brand gains a negative stigma the substance may no longer matter. In the policy world, the leading current example is Common Core.

Common Core has a brand problem. Two separate national surveys demonstrate rapidly declining support for the Common Core State Standards initiative. An Education Next poll indicates that public approval has dropped from 65 percent to 53 percent in just one year (June 2013 to June 2014); and Republicans are now almost evenly split on the issue. A recent PDK/Gallup poll is tells and even sorrier story, with approval of 33 percent swamped by 60 percent disapproval. The substance, however, is not the problem. When respondents were asked a generic question about support for the reforms reflected by the Common Core, without using the name, approval jumps to 68 percent.

These findings are reinforced by (former Common Core supporter) Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's lawsuit accusing the Obama administration of illegally compelling states to adopt the Common Core education standards. It's clear the Common Core brand has been compromised (if not outright destroyed).

But what about the substance underneath? What about the reforms and their policy impact?

Business leaders represented by organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable agree that higher standards -- standards that are internationally benchmarked and aligned to the expectations of colleges and employers -- are "critical to building and maintaining an American workforce that can compete in the global economy." Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce projects a sharp increase in demand for STEM related jobs coupled with a severe shortage in attainment of STEM related degrees in the next few years. These jobs will play a significant role in boosting state's economies. Better standards are needed to produce the STEM education to meet these demands. However, with waning support for implementing Common Core, the states choosing to take no action to increase standards - -or worse, revert to inferior standards -- might very well continue to struggle with lagging economies.

It's too early in the implementation process of Common Core to know for certain if the standards are having positive effects on student outcomes. But it's worth noting that as far back as 2007, Eric Hanushek, a Senior Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institute and American Action Forum Education Expert, demonstrated that quality of education is causally related to economic outcomes and that individual earnings are systematically related to cognitive skills. This was again reinforced in 2013 when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that raising student test scores in this country, up to the level in Canada, could dramatically increase economic growth. Associated additional growth could add an average 20 percent to the paycheck of every worker.

The policy of the Common Core is sound. To achieve the required level of quality educational attainment needed for our students to meet the demands of a modern workforce, state policymakers need to focus on elevating educational standards. With the passage of No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, Congress insisted that all children could achieve; now nearly 13 years later the time has come to insist that all children can achieve at a higher level.

The image of the Common Core State Standards initiative is less sound. Image-conscious states unfortunately are likely to lose the benefits to their economies that are reaped by those that address academic standards.