If you understand what the Common Core Standards are then you are smarter than the majority of the current presidential candidates. Most conservatives are familiar with the term “Common Core Standards” (CCS) and oppose them because of the stigma associated with it. Unfortunately outside of the occasional Facebook meme about confusing ways to solve math problems, most people don’t understand why the standards set a bad precedent for U.S. education.
The issue was raised in several of the presidential debates and was a major part of the undoing of former Governor Jeb Bush. When it came to some of the GOP candidates, I inwardly winced when I heard them discuss the issue because their statements show a lack of knowledge on the subject or where things stand currently.
Prior to this election cycle, Governors Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee were major advocates for Common Core. Bush, in particular, used his foundation to push the standards and wrote/spoke extensively for their adoption. Huckabee spoke in favor of the standards. After he experienced backlash from the grassroots, he walked his support back in a monologue on his Fox show. After his public denunciation, he assured a DC audience that he still supported the standards and that a name change would assuage opponent’s unfounded concerns. (This move left a bad taste in my mouth about him as a candidate.)
Governor John Kasich wholeheartedly supported the adoption of the CCS in Ohio. During the campaign season, he repeatedly tried to deflect on the issue saying that he was in favor of high standards regardless of the name. Governor Chris Christie supported the CCS at first but has since appointed a commission to study the issue.
A few of the candidates fought the standards in their respective legislatures. Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham co-sponsored a resolution opposing CCS in the upper chamber. Senator Cruz’s oft repeated phrase about repealing every word of Common Core illustrated how some Members think Common Core is like Obamacare. It’s not. Senator Rand Paul has been vocal against the standards from the beginning of his term in office. Governor Bobby Jindal valiantly fought the implementation of the standards in Louisiana. Governor Rick Perry has been a longstanding and vocal opponent of the CCS. Texas is one of the four states which did not adopt the standards.
Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee has repeatedly called Common Core “a total disaster” but then said that we should keep it in a South Carolina speech at Clemson. He later reiterated his opposition to CCS and said he was referring to Jeb Bush’s position.
On the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton has stated that she finds opposition to the standards “painful” since they started out as a bipartisan solution to address low educational standards. Senator Bernie Sanders has not mentioned Common Core on the campaign trail and has a mixed voting record on the issue.
Here are a few tips for those who want to talk intelligently about the Common Core Standards.
- The Common Core Standards are NOT a curriculum.
The K-12 educational standards outline what students should know in English language arts and mathematics and purport to ensure that students graduate college and career ready. There are a separate set of science standards (Next Generation Science Standards-2012) available but they are not part of the CCS. The standards do drive the various curriculum offerings. Since David Coleman (the architect of the CCS) is now the head of the College Board which produces the SAT and AP tests, they will no doubt be aligned to the standards as well.
- The Common Core Standards were NOT developed by the states.
They were a joint effort of the CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers), the NGA (National Governors Association), and Achieve Inc. which are based in Washington, D.C. It did enjoy some bipartisan support but not the overwhelming support of Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Side note: Conservative groups like my former employer opposed NCLB as well. National standards set a dangerous precedent and give the federal government too much control over education.
- The Obama Administration took ownership of Common Core when they used ARRA (2009) funding to launch a competitive grant competition known as Race to the Top (Obama’s signature education initiative). They dangled $4.35 billion dollars and freedom from NCLB targets/punishments in front of cash strapped states and all but 4 states (AK, NE, TX, VA) took the bait. President Obama touted this “achievement” in several State of the Union addresses. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited the adoption of CCS as one of his biggest accomplishments and made national headlines for speaking derisively of parents who opposed them. The newly confirmed Secretary of Education John King, formerly the New York Commissioner of Education, is a big proponent of the standards and became infamous for shutting down parent meetings to address the issues with the state’s rocky, Common Core aligned test roll-out.
- The fight to get rid of Common Core is at the state level now.
The states took the money, changed their curriculum, and signed on to the CCS aligned testing groups (PARCC and SMARTER Balanced). As states have come to grips with the amount of money the new tests will cost per student, both testing groups have lost members. Governors, legislatures, and state boards of education must extricate themselves from the standards and craft their own educational benchmarks. To date, Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have exited the standards. Some allege that although these states have thrown out CCS the new standards borrow heavily from the CCS. Nine other states are in the process of reviewing the standards.
What are the main problems with the standards?
- One-size-fits-all approach
- Loss of decision-making power at the local level
- Lack of accountability leaves frustrated parents with few options to address problems with standards, tests, and aligned curriculum
- Sets precedent for national curriculum and testing in violation of federal law
- Poor implementation and teacher preparation have affected public school educators and lowered student’s test scores in some cases (see New York)
- States who did not win the competitive grant competition had to follow through with CCS adoption which led to unvetted materials and unnecessary expenses (NEA and AFT, the two largest teachers’ unions, have raised serious objections to the standards.)
- Collusion of textbook publishers/data mining companies with those who crafted the standards (Follow the money.)
- Structure of the standards: math sequencing and heavy focus on technical reading v. study of classic literature texts
- Affects private schools and homeschoolers (curriculum offerings, standardized testing, transfer to public school, class credit acceptance, college acceptance requirements, accreditation obstacles, etc.)
In short, the promises of Common Core’s biggest cheerleaders have not been realized and states must decide whether they want to relinquish educational control to distant bureaucrats in D.C. Politicians need to do a better job explaining how the standards harm educational freedom and innovation in the classroom. Parents need to educate themselves about the shortcomings of the standards and how the testing will affect their children. Conservatives need to be able to clearly articulate why national educational standards set a bad precedent, advocate for local control of education, and promote alternatives like school choice which encourage competition.