Earlier this month the News & Observer ran three opinion pieces on Common Core State Standards. Find them here, here and here. The authors are respected and accomplished individuals, which makes it all the more surprising that they would defend Common Core with arguments that are silly and unconvincing. Jim Goodnight, the CEO of SAS, reminds us that standards are not curriculum and tells us to keep politics out of education. Phil Kirk, former chair of the State Board of Education and president of the NC Chamber of Commerce, scoffs at the thought that Common Core is a federal takeover of education and says scuttling the standards now would be “a huge step backward.” Ben Owens, a teacher from Murphy, says a joint legislative proposal to replace Common Core standards would shortchange kids who need important skills to compete in the workplace and be a blow to public education in our state.
What is interesting is that none of the authors address any of the fundamental and substantive criticisms leveled against Common Core. Advocates simply assert Common Core articulates clear consistent educational goals and expectations, and that the standards will make our kids competitive in a global economy. How could anyone oppose such a noble idea? Besides, we’ve invested too much to change course now. End of argument.
Why don’t Common Core supporters address the many critics who question the quality and rigor of the standards? Why don’t supporters respond to researchers and policymakers who say standards don’t really have much impact on student achievement? Why don’t supporters address the very real problems surrounding testing for students and teachers? Or why don’t supporters respond to the very real concerns over how much it will cost to implement Common Core or who will pay for it?
Common Core supporters say critics are inserting politics into education. Jim Goodnight says we must keep the politics out of education. Phil Kirk says much the same when he states much of the opposition to Common Core comes from those who are opposed to President Obama. As they haven’t been able to defeat Obamacare, his argument goes, they are trying to defeat Obama on Common Core standards. Really?
Where were Mr. Goodnight and Mr. Kirk in 2009 when the Obama administration wrote a check for $4.3 billion for Race-to-the-Top and tied state Race-to-the-Top grants to state adoption of Common Core Standards? Nearly 100 percent of the $360 million budgets for the two assessment consortia are funded by the federal government. Does anyone really think the federal government will have no say in testing and assessment? Or that tests and assessment won’t affect what our kids are taught?
Defenders of Common Core repeatedly make the distinction between standards and curriculum. It’s a true statement and an important distinction. However, it’s also true that standards drive curriculum. Proponents say Common Core doesn’t tell individuals how to teach. Doesn’t Common Core prescribe what percentage of informational texts for the teaching of English Language Arts Standards will be used? Common Core will also drive what will be assessed and the texts that will be aligned to different subjects.
There is little dispute that American students need to perform better if this nation is to maintain a competitive economic position. Higher standards and the ability to think deeply are laudable qualities. The disagreement lies in what means you choose to get there.
Regrettably, the implementation of Common Core Standards has brought on a raft of problems ranging from cost, to too much testing, to teacher evaluation. In a recent insightful Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan wrote that Common Core proponents “fell in love with an abstraction and gave barely a thought to implementation.” That’s a perceptive observation and an accurate description of the disconnect between those developing policy and the people who must live with it.
Again Noonan writes: “The irony is that Core proponents’ overall objective – to get schools teaching more necessary and important things, and to encourage intellectual coherence in what is taught – is not bad, but good. Why they thought the answer was federal, I mean national, and not local is beyond me.”
North Carolina needs better student performance. However, are Common Core standards the only route to getting there? Four states – Minnesota, Texas, Virginia and Nebraska – chose not to adopt the standards. Did the economies in each of these states come to a grinding halt? Did businesses suddenly start leaving the state? Last I checked these states were outperforming North Carolina economically. The states didn’t implode. They are doing just fine. Citizens in those states must define what children should learn and how they should learn it as they always have.
No one is considering going back to prior standards. The goal of the Standards and Accountability Commission is to conduct a comprehensive review of the math and English Language Arts standards and their impacts. This is necessary because – as surprising as it sounds – the standards were not tested nor fully vetted before they were implemented. Who should partake in this process? History tells us that over the long run North Carolinians, not private parties in Washington, do the best job of developing those standards. That’s why these efforts should go forward. Let the work begin.