Unfounded fears on Common Core

Mar. 26, 2014 @ 10:46 PM

This editorial appeared in the News & Record, Greensboro

There may be some valid reasons to worry about the Common Core academic standards. Communism, pornography, social engineering, sex education and the Muslim Brotherhood are not among them. Yet, those were among the horrors cited at a legislative research committee hearing in Raleigh recently.

That people believe such nonsense demonstrates the power of disinformation campaigns aimed at derailing an honest effort to raise the level of instruction in our public schools.

The initiative wasn't even begun by President Barack Obama, as many of its critics think. It was devised by the National Governors Association to introduce greater consistency across the country. One of its strongest proponents is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016. North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory also endorses Common Core.

A prominent critic is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has said, "We should not allow the federal government to dictate what our children learn; rather, parents, through their teachers, local schools and state systems, should be able to direct the education of their children."

If parents made curriculum decisions, every child might have his or her own lessons. States set curricula, but without national standards they can't tell if their students are learning as much as children in the rest of the country. By North Carolina's own standards, its students were doing great. When scores on state tests were compared to national assessments, a different picture emerged. Uniform standards allow a better comparison. This approach isn't dictated by the federal government, although the Obama administration supports it. It has been embraced by 45 states because young people who graduate from high school in North Carolina should know generally what students know in New York or California.

Critics of Common Core are not all right-wing conspiracy theorists. It has met resistance even in liberal New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo, other Democrats and a teachers' union have found fault -- but mostly with its rigor and faulty implementation.

"We see kids, they don't want to go to school anymore," a high school principal told The New York Times. What, kids don't want to go to school?

Obviously, it is harder to meet higher standards and to prepare teachers to elevate learning. The number of failures will increase, as North Carolina saw with a drop in test scores last year. Adjustments may be needed.

But here's what we know: On international tests, American kids trail their counterparts in some other countries. That's a problem in a global economy. Good jobs in the future will require higher-level thinking skills. Can American young people excel if they're only asked to meet the academic standards of the 1980s? Not likely. Can they even enter our state university system prepared to succeed? Judging by today's retention and graduation rates, the answer is often no.

State legislators ought to examine the impact of Common Core standards, but they should tune out irrational fears. If the future is frightening, it's not because of a federal takeover of education. It's because our young people aren't learning enough.