Tweak, don’t dump, Common Core

Apr. 29, 2014 @ 04:22 PM

The Common Core educational standards adopted by nearly every state are caught up in a political storm and fury that has forged unusual alliances and created unlikely adversaries.

The N. C. Chamber of Commerce, for example, has emphatically supported the standards, even as Republicans in the legislature have been leading the charge to jettison them. And while the standards have drawn the ire of conservatives who see a federal takeover of education and assault on cultural values, some of the stoutest criticism has come from liberal education critic Diane Ravitch.

North Carolina adopted the then-widely embraced standards in 2010, and they went into effect for in the 2012-2013 school year. Almost from the beginning, opposition has been growing – and supporters growing more exasperated by some of that opposition.

Last week, a legislative study committee recommended the state legislature throw out the Common Core. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, argued for the rejection:

"If you adopt national standards, that triggers everything else. It triggers your textbooks, your tests and your teaching methods. If you believe in Common Core, they own it all, and North Carolina owns nothing."

Leaving aside the marginal coherence of that, it’s ironic coming from the party of George W. Bush, whose No Child Left Behind act was a sweeping injection of national oversight into education.

The Common Core standards are fair target for criticism. Many parents are rightly flummoxed by expectations the standards set for students in early grades.  Corporate influence in their development worries many.   Teachers were likely given too little time and training to fully understand how to implement them.

Like any complex solution to complex problems, the standards can and should be tweaked and improved.

But the hysteria with which critics such as Tillman have greeted them is rooted in little more than reflexive revulsion with anything touched by President Barack Obama.  The standards grew out of governors of both parties demanding standards more stringent and comparable from state to state in a transient nation.  Obama and the U. S. Department of Education did lend their considerable support – and added incentives by favoring states that signed on in making federal grants.

Opponents have denounced the Common Core for dictating lesson plans; they don’t. The standards have been denounced for requiring children to read books that parents might consider inappropriate or even pornographic. They don’t. (The only required readings under the standards are Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Lincoln’s second inaugural address.)

For the legislature to reject the Common Core standards at this stage – with so much time and money invested and with much to be gained by following them – would be yet more disruption and distraction.

 “We’re going after Common Core because we’re connecting it to the federal government and Obama, and that’s just crazy,” Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, said last week. “Get over that and just do what’s best for the kids."

We couldn’t say it better.