I work for a firm that analyzes student data and gives recommendations to schools as to which students ought to go in which math classes. The ordinary way this is decided is to give the math teachers full discretion as to who is ready for what. Unfortunately, this is an extremely poor predictive model, and tends to reward students who have absolutely no intention of going into a career which requires math, but are extremely hardworking and do their absolute best on homework and tests, while punishing both lazy computer geeks and most minorities.
This has been going on for about two generations, and has led to the complete subjugation of America's position as the most innovative nation, primarily in the past decade or so. Most or all of the chairs in an advanced math class are filled with people who go on to be doctors, lawyers, marketing consultants, or what have you, NOT engineers, physicists, or mathematicians. This has had tremendous consequences on our economy. The Department of Defence, for instance, has been outsourcing nearly all of their software and cryptography needs to Indian firms, not because they're cheaper (they would pay extra for the ability to 'buy American'), but because there were literally zero qualified American applicants. Even the government outsources, and the private sector has even less incentive to buy American, so... Well, you can imagine.
So, how do we fix this problem? Well, there are two primary goals. 1) Find better algorithms for determining math placement. We've made much progress on this front, with value-added predictive models approaching 99% accuracy with high precision. As an example, SAS's EVAAS software, when the political environment has allowed it to be tested, gives math placement recommendations with the result of nearly doubling the median scores on standardized tests at the end of the year; the students really do belong there, and the teachers did not correctly perceive those students' potential. The teacher unions will continue to lose power and this analytical coup de tat will fill the gap, or we will continue to train the wrong people to compete in the global economy.
The second goal, 2) Find better algorithms for determining content mastery. Once again, the teachers have too much influence. Homework grades, participation grades, minor or major bias in grading, and sometimes even incompetency on the part of the teacher, all conspire to add a randomizing effect to any assessment of students' abilities based on grades and GPAs. We require some sort of standardized curriculum and standardized assessment system, so that we can get enough data to figure out what we should be changing about the way we educate children.
There are a couple added benefits. From the perspective of laize fair capitalism, having the institution which teaches content mastery and the institution which assesses content mastery be the same institution is utterly ludicrous, and will lead to ridiculous market pressures favoring cheating (look what happened in Atlanta, where the a small cabal was able to alter all of the test scores for the whole city). While the politicians aren't exactly the best custodians of the assessment half of education (since they get rotated out so quickly, they are focused heavily on short-term goals), they will perform the job significantly better than the very same teachers who teach the content to be assessed, for the simple fact that there's much less pressure towards dishonest behavior.
Common Core is the first attempt at standardizing the assessment criteria so that the system provides meaningful data instead of pure, opaque noise. I'll be the first to admit it is not a very good system, and in many ways in these early days does more harm than good.
But do not doubt for a second that something *like* Common Core is necessary for the future survival of our Nation.