In a misnamed article, “Common Core is a conservative victory,” Republican education reformers Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli used a recent News &Observer op-ed to try and persuade North Carolina conservatives to support the new national Common Core education standards.
I respect Finn and Petrilli and frequently agree with them. However, on Common Core Standards, Finn and Petrilli have nothing in common with conservatives.
The authors call Common Core the fiscally responsible thing to do. They claim that a Common Core “do-over” would waste the millions of taxpayer dollars already invested in the effort and forego the savings states presumably would garner if they no longer had to buy textbooks customized for every state.
But that’s peanuts compared to the costs of Common Core. A 2012 Pioneer Institute study estimated the costs of implementing Common Core standards nationally over the next seven years at about $16 billion. That’s the cost for new assessments, professional development, textbooks and additional materials, and technology infrastructure and support. Let’s also remember the figure is a mid-range estimate and does not include the cost of additional and expensive reforms (such as smaller classes or improved teacher compensation) to help students meet the new standards. The same study estimates the cost of implementing Common Core in North Carolina over the same time period at $535 million. That’s about $76 million a year.
Where is the money coming for teaching training, textbooks and technology infrastructure? The fact is, there is no money for these items in state or local budgets. How is it fiscally responsible to move forward when basic questions on cost and financing are left unanswered?
Because the standards will be rigorous and the results public, Finn and Petrilli say, Common Core will improve quality and true accountability for education. I’m all for high standards. However, saying Common Core standards are high-quality doesn’t make them so.
Professor Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas — one of the authors of the well-regarded Massachusetts education standards — has repeatedly criticized Common Core English language standards for failing to make students college-ready. She also says Common Core proponents provide no research to support the use of informational texts. Former Stanford math professor James Milgram, a member of the committee that developed the math standards, refused to sign off on them. He says the math Common Core standards will leave our children two years behind students in those counties we wish to emulate.
More accountability is desirable. However, Common Core merely scuttles one accountability system in favor of another – and it’s not one that empowers local schools, elected officials or parents. Under the new system, standards are owned not by the public but by two organizations (the National Governors Association and the Council of State Chief School Officers) and decisions are made not by local or elected officials but by unelected bureaucrats.
Finn and Petrilli tell us Common Core Standards will spur tremendous investment from states and private firms to develop textbooks, resources, online learning professional development and technology all geared toward aligning learning to the Common Core Standards. But more than 100 experts in a variety of fields signed onto Closing the Door on Innovation: Why One National Curriculum is Bad for America. The statement said Common Core Standards are not only inferior to the best college-ready standards; they also will destroy the diversity that has strengthened our educational system and propelled its development.
If you think Common Core is a conservative victory ask yourself: What is conservative about Common Core’s top-down centralized approach that not only assumes the existence of one best set of standards, but believes the untested standards should be taught to all?
What is conservative about English language standards that supplant the reading of classic texts with informational texts and deprive students of exposure to great questions and themes of literature?
What is conservative about private organizations developing national standards for all public schools and using big government to provide incentives to push all states to adopt them?
What is conservative about content standards that run roughshod over regional differences, cede education decision-making authority to the federal government, and apply a “one-size-fits-all” template to education?
What is conservative about Common Core standards that obliterate our diverse systems of educational governance and varied academic standards and steamroll the prized principles of local control and parental rights?
Calling Common Core Standards a conservative victory is a misreading of the challenging environment and harmful impact the standards create. The ultimate defeat of Common Core is the only true victory that should interest conservatives.