One of the major goals of US education reform has been to establish higher academic standards. An improved K-12 curriculum and higher standards have been constant themes in recent years. But is imposing uniform standards across the states a productive and appropriate role for government?

Many policymakers have argued that a common goal encourages coherence and uniformity in educational practices. Also, by setting expectations students learn more and people have a clear understanding of what students should know and be able to accomplish.

But the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey makes a strong argument against top-down control. McCluskey points out:

“Setting high standards and getting American students to hit them is extremely difficult. Politically powerful interest groups must be overcome. Crippling conflicts between different religious, ethnic, and ideological factions must be avoided. And a culture that is generally averse to an intense focus on academics must be transformed.”

McCluskey concludes his argument by stressing the role of free market in producing high standards, accountability, and optimal education outcomes.

“The key appears to be to give education funding to parents, allow schools autonomy, and as a result make schools respond to the needs and demands of parents and children. That would solve the asymmetrical power problem, forcing educators to satisfy customers rather than use politics to get their way”.

In other words, give parents more freedom to decide what option is best for their children, and schools will be begin addressing the demands of the marketplace. This will drive innovation, expand choice and lead to better schools.