Do you need a good, bracing debate to finish off 2014 and start 2015 in fighting form? One that includes everything from state rights,through the limits to federal government, the future of the global economy and America’s role in it, passing on to inequality, education, and even whether tests are accurate measures? Why then, look no further than Common Core … again. It seems that Common Core will be an almost-third-rail topic in the next elections, especially within the GOP. Touch it and your chances of winning the party leadership could die, but touch it you must at some point if only with an accusatory finger, crooked in condemnation at what started as a science project and has by now morphed into one mighty beast.

Jack Hassard, writing in the National Education Policy Center’s website, seems to come from a fairly liberal perspective, but his criticisms of, or his quoting of studies that criticize, the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results raise some interesting objections to Common Core and it’s obsession with American students’, especially 12th graders’, rankings. Quoting Iris Rotberg of George Washington University, Hassard points out the lack of strong statistical correlation between global competitiveness rankings and PISA results. Unsurprisingly, the US ranks far better in global competitiveness, and factors, as laid out by Rotberg, like incentives for innovation, tax rates, health care and retirement costs, government subsidies, protectionism, and intellectual-property rights, among others, matter far more than average science and math scores across America. No kidding. America is an enormous country in every sense of the word. Diverse, widespread, and seething with creativity. Very unlike top-ranked PISA star Singapore: a tidy relatively homogenous little island where freedoms are limited in many ways that Americans would find unacceptable. Science and math matter, a lot. But the best way to solve any reasonable failures, measured by far more than PISA rankings, is best not tailored in one standard straightjacket, made in D.C. Only the broadest guidelines should come from the federal government. Let each state be held accountable by its own voters on how well it handles education. Think about it. That means 50 fun debates on Common Core, and more importantly, 50 solutions to math and science shortcomings that might actually work. 50 solutions that will likely resemble each other far more than they differ. To ignore the problem of science and math under the guise of defending against an attack on state rights seems stubborn and short sighted. To use Common Core as a trojan horse for everything from imposed egalitarianism to politically correct cultural teachings is a frightening solution. Somewhere between those extremes, each state should help their students improve, reasonably and measurably, in science and math in the best way they see fit.