Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

“Scale is good for free market competition,” said Bill Gates last Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute. “Individual state regulatory capture is not good for competition.” Gates’ remarks came as part of his pitch for the highly controversial Common Core national standards and tests.

Yet, what Gates laments as “regulatory capture” of education by states is actually states’ freedom to establish their own standards and tests. Most state constitutions require states and/or school districts to establish standards for what students will learn. States and localities also finance 90 percent of all education spending, empowering local leaders—not the federal government—to establish content guidelines.

By contrast, the regulatory capture of education content by the federal government will further centralize education decision-making, further disempower parents, and increase downward pressure on content quality. Those special interest groups that historically have had the most influence at the national levellike the teachers union leadershipwill be in a position to influence national standards to a far greater extent than parents or teachers.

“And so this thing, in terms of driving innovation, you’d think that sort of pro-capitalistic market-driven people would be in favor of it, but, you know, somehow, it’s gotten to be controversial,” Gates said.

As The Foundry’s Genevieve Wood wrote last week:

Businesses, understandably, don’t like the government telling them how to run their companies. They don’t want the government to impose one size fits all regulations, regardless of the differences between businesses in environment, size, and customers. So it’s curious why the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable and other business lobbying groups think that one size fits all regulation is the right answer for America’s schools and classrooms.

Gates and other business advocates of the Common Core are confusing standards of quality with government regulation. When it comes to business, Microsoft understands the organic nature by which industry standards are established. In a 2012 letter, Microsoft’s vice president and deputy general counsel of the firm’s corporate standards group and antitrust group wrote a statement about “standards essential patents” being important to industry and consumers:

Standards are developed in a collaborative process. Engineers from a variety of firms (and other stakeholder groups) come together over the course of months, or years, contributing ideas on how best to define new standards. Those ideas often include patented inventions—new and better ways to perform various functions.

The letter, which outlined Microsoft’s commitment to industry standards and patents, went on to note: “This system works really well, almost all of the time.”

Businesses and industries around the world set, and adhere to, standards without government mandates. American clothing designers, for instance, follow fashion industry guidelines for sizing even though they aren’t federally mandated.  

As Heritage wrote in a joint letter with the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute, the Center for Education Reform, and the Friedman Foundation:

True accountability comes not from top-down regulations but from parents financially empowered to exit schools that fail to meet their child’s needs. Parental choice, coupled with freedom for educators, creates the incentives and opportunities that spur quality. The compelled conformity fostered by centralized standards and tests stifles the very diversity that gives consumer choice its value.

And as it stands, private schools not bound by government “standards” tend to perform as well as, and often better than, the public systemand frequently at a far lower cost. Choice and competition among curricular options, and the ability for parents to vote with their feet if schools don’t meet their standards, will hold schools to the most stringent level of accountability.