The implementation of the Common Core State Standards has stirred up much controversy and debate. Some of this debate is healthy, particularly over how to develop rigorous, common standards and assessments. Also, the criticism of the federal government’s intrusion into a state-led initiative is a legitimate matter for distress. Increasingly, however, lies, myths, exaggerations and hysteria about what the Common Core means and does have dominated the “debate” and the real issues have been obscured. Dishonest critics have decided that the Common Core is a pestilence on the land and have so characterized it. It is not.
However, these distortions of the Common Core have taken a toll on the education reform movement towards more rigorous standards and those who embrace it—including potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Bush had a formidable and conservative record as the Governor of Florida yet some believe that his embrace of Common Core is an indelible and unforgivable stain on his record that disqualifies from running for president. This, also, is not true and based on misinformation.
Latest distortion of the Common Core
The latest and most glaring, but all too typical, example of these distortions is found in a recent Fox News article with the eye-catching headline, “High School: Islamic vocabulary lesson part of Common Core standards.”
The lead paragraph reads, “Parents in Farmville, North Carolina want to know why their children were given a Common Core vocabulary assignment in an English class that promoted the Prophet Muhammad and the Islamic faith.”
The article goes on to explain how this English class vocabulary worksheet uses certain Islamic words, like “mosque,” “pastoral” and “zenith,” to teach students about Islam while expanding their vocabulary. Believing that these vocabulary lessons are part and parcel of the Common Core, the article quotes outraged parents who claim that the Common Core is indoctrinating their sons and daughters with Islamic propaganda.
Now, if Islamic vocabulary lessons were truly endemic to Common Core, I would be outraged as well. However, it is not. This charge against the Common Core is a bold-faced lie.
First, this specific workbook—the Holt Traditions Vocabulary Workshop—was originally published in October 2000, nearly a decade before the Common Core was adopted or implemented by any states and years before the idea was even conceived. It could not be part of the Common Core.
The Common Core is a set of standards—not a curriculum
Recall that the Common Core is a set of standards—not a curriculum—which details what students are expected to learn in each grade. It does not specify how lessons are taught in the classroom or what textbooks must be used. Other than four foundational historical documents—the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address—there is no required reading list. If you examine the actual Common Core standards, which are readily available online, you will quickly discover that this Islamic vocabulary worksheet, or anything else like it, is nowhere to be found.
The Common Core leaves the designation, approval, and use of textbooks, worksheets and assignments to local control; in most states, that means school districts and teachers. It is up to local educators and policy makers to choose how they will implement the Common Core standards. However, in such a huge and lucrative market, problems of implementation still arise. In some cases, a textbook company will market its books as Common Core “aligned” or “approved,” leading some parents or educators to believe that the Common Core standards themselves dictated that particular textbook. And in some cases, local school boards or educators falsely attribute their curriculum choices to the Common Core.
It is not exactly clear which of these problems occurred in Farmville Central High School, part of Pitt County Schools. However, it is clear that Common Core was not the problem.
Sensational news stories attract far more attention than nuanced policy debates
As is often the case, sensational, even if false, news stories attract far more attention than nuanced policy debates. In this instance, the notion of Islamic propaganda in American schools promised more interest than a detailed explanation and examination of the Common Core and curriculum decisions made by locally elected officials in Pitt County.
These myths and lies spread throughout the media like wildfire, and opponents of the Common Core know they can fan the flames of opposition far more effectively with these sensational and scurrilous accusations rather than engaging in an honest, intellectual policy debate.
A quick survey of other Common Core-related myths in print include accusations that the Common Core variously promotes left wing ideology, racism, white privilege, global warming, Obamacare, Communism, sexually explicit materials, and so on. None of these accusations is true to the Common Core. Again, if such materials are being used in a classroom, they are the product of decisions made by teachers, principals and local school boards. Concerned parents should address their anger at the parties responsible.
It is time for integrity and truth in this debate. The issue of honest standards of learning for our children is too important to be buried in an avalanche of misinformation and demonization.