Tea Party groups in South Carolina and a number of other states are marshalling their forces to derail educational standards called Common Core. Why? Apparently because it’s a program overseen by the federal government.
Critics of the standards, which were voluntarily adopted by most states and rejected by a few, regard them as more federal intrusion into state and local education systems. Some say the standards also will lead to retinal scanning of students and massive data-mining expeditions feeding a government supercomputer.
The more extreme fears are nonsense. But so, to a large extent, are notions that Common Core is a federal mandate being shoved down the throats of state governments.
The movement for a national common core of standards started at the state level before Barack Obama ran for president. Governors and state education officials, alarmed that the U.S. students were being outpaced by foreign students around the world, joined to establish a set of clear and sensible standards for what skills high school students should possess when they graduate.
The standards are the result of a bipartisan effort led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers that began about five years ago. It relied on input from teachers and a variety of data and research on the skills students needed to master from kindergarten to 12th grade if they were to be ready for college or a career.
While Common Core is similar in concept to the mandated standards adopted under President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, the new standards shift away from requiring students to master a set of concepts through rote memorization. The new emphasis is on critical thinking and being able to support claims with evidence.
No Child Left Behind also sought to establish national core standards. But instead of a uniform national test, which is what Common Core would institute, it allowed states to design their own evaluation systems, which produced uneven results.
Common Core doesn’t tell schools how to play the game. Instead, it helps designate where the goal lines are.
States and local school districts need flexibility to adapt curriculum and teaching methods to the particular needs of their students. And Common Core gives them that flexibility; the standards are not forced on states, nor are they a requirement for other federal benefits.
But in a competitive world made smaller and more interactive by technology, we need national standards. Establishing a basic common measurement for student achievement not only helps educators evaluate where students stand but also helps determine which curricula and instructional techniques get the best results.
This is not heavy-handed, intrusive government. It’s states and educational leaders working together to set goals and improve educational quality nationwide.
Don’t listen to the critics who want to dump Common Core just because the federal government is involved.