You may not have heard of Common Core, but it’s the most controversial two words in the American education system right now.
Common Core is the shorthand for a requirement that, beginning as early as possible in elementary school and continuing throughout high school, students be exposed to, and become comfortable with, a college-prep set of skills. These skills—especially in mathematics and English—will provide a foundation for students to go in any career direction.
This is so transparently a good thing that it’s hard to figure out why anyone would be opposed. That’s especially true for conservatives, who have long believed our education system is underperforming; that student progress needs to be measured; and that teachers and school superintendents should be accountable for better outcomes in the classroom.
Conservatives are instinctively pro-standard. And yet the latest round of opposition to Common Core comes primarily from the right. What gives?
As with so many other major initiatives, those who disagree with any portion of the idea want to scrap the whole thing. Why, they ask, does a 10th grader interested in auto mechanics need to know whether it was David Copperfield or Oliver Twist who asked for more porridge? (Hint: It was Oliver.) Why does that same student need to pass Algebra II to achieve proficiency in setting the timing on a Tesla “S” model electric car? (Hint: Electric cars don’t have timing issues.)
Not every high-school student needs to go to a traditional four-year college. But, those who claim we are wasting the time of students who are likely to get on a vocational instead of an academic track are settling for low expectations at a time when we should be setting high expectations.
What if, instead, we made the case that students who were either pushed into a vocational lane or self-selected for it, were being deprived of skills they may need later in life? What if they want to progress beyond being an hourly worker to being the manager of a business, or perhaps owning his or her own business?
When we look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment numbers on the first Friday of every month, we are treated to an amazing graph. That graph shows a straight line in employment from someone who did not finish high school to someone with a professional degree. The line goes up from no high-school diploma through a two-year community college associate’s degree to some four-year college to a college degree through an advanced degree to being a doctor or a lawyer.
Rich Galen is a Republican strategist.
This piece originally appeared in Politico. Read the rest of the piece here.