You’d think an effort to improve school standards and promote higher expectations for students — adopted by 45 states, embraced by the business community, and endorsed by governors and education reformers from both parties — would be about as controversial as motherhood and apple pie.
Well, think again. Attacks against the “Common Core” standards, led by Tea Party activists and conservative pundits and lately joined by some teachers’ unions, have reached a crescendo of distortions that put students’ welfare at risk.
Last month, Indiana, which adopted the standards in 2010, became the first state to un-adopt them. Similar repeal moves are afoot in several other states.
It’s an instructive example of how easily constructive, thoughtful attempts to address the nation’s problems are derailed by political opportunism.
Common Core standards were developed to improve U.S. schools, too many of which are failing in an era of global competition. The standards provide a rigorous measure of where students ought to be in math and English as they move from kindergarten through 12th grade.
One key goal is to prevent states from inflating their proficiency and achievement results by setting low bars or dumbing down tests. Another is to promote critical, evidence-based thinking — something the critics would do well to learn.
Instead, conservative commentators deride the standards as “Obamacore.” Get it? They insist Common Core is a federal plot to take over education, hatched in “backrooms” in Washington and, according to talk show host Glenn Beck, “jammed … through in the dead of night.”
Let’s look at the facts. Barack Obama wasn’t president in 2007, when state school chiefs hatched the idea at a meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Their final product was later backed by the National Governors Association. Supporters include Republicans such as Jeb Bush of Florida and Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Nor is Washington jamming the standards down anyone’s throat. States can opt in or out. They also still set curriculum and choose textbooks.
The Obama administration’s apparent sin was encouraging Common Core by giving states points — and a shot at federal dollars — in its “Race to the Top” if they adopted rigorous educational standards. Again, states had their choice. Now, in an election year when Obama is a convenient punching bag, some politicians don’t like those choices.
Republican Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana and a potential GOP presidential aspirant, was a fan of the standards until this month when he wasn’t. He tried to repeal the state’s Common Core adoption, but failed. Now he’s pushing to jettison a test aligned with the standards.
Opposition is also coming from the left. In New York, the teachers’ union and some principals were spooked by low test scores on the first Common Core-aligned tests. Teachers fear the effect on their evaluations.
The new, professionally developed standards deserve a chance to prove their worth, not be sacrificed in yet another campaign of political demonization.
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