The Common Core standards for schools have their passionate defenders, but they also have a growing number of critics. My focus will not be on the standards themselves, since many are not even known at this point, but on what I consider to be the most telling argument against them — the manner in which they were implemented.
A coalition of state school officials and private educational groups, working with and funded by the Gates Foundation and others, unveiled Common Core (or whatever part of it was known at the time) in 2010. The states, eager to land more federal money if they signed on, did so in droves. Before anyone knew what Common Core was all about, some 46 states — including Missouri — had jumped on the bandwagon, although several are now having second thoughts.
In one fell swoop, the time-honored tradition of local control of public education was dealt a stunning blow. Subject standards will now be set by people in distant places who consider themselves to be the sole repository of wisdom as to what our children should be learning.
Being far-removed and faceless, these so-called experts will dodge a very important ingredient in local control of education — accountability. When it comes to the very important function of setting curriculum, local school boards and administrators will be little more than rubber stamps for what is handed down from on high, for if you define subject standards you are in effect defining curriculum.
Make no mistake, this is the most far-reaching change in public education in our generation. That it was accomplished without any input whatsoever from our state legislators makes me wonder whether changes are needed in how the state Department of Education operates. If there were ever an educational innovation that demanded close legislative scrutiny, Common Core is it.
To a significant extent, Common Core is a pig in a poke. Among the standards that haven’t yet been made public are those in history and the social sciences. It is in these course areas where we can expect the dictates of political correctness to be most evident, since the impetus behind Common Core is primarily from the left.
In each state where it is adopted, the Common Core standards will impose a lock-step uniformity that treats every school district the same. But districts vary widely, and a one-size-fits-all approach will ultimately prove to be unworkable. Why doesn’t the liberal fondness for “diversity” apply here?
None of this is to infer that public education is all that it should be — far from it. Constant improvement should be the goal of every school district. But if a state decides that major and far-reaching changes are necessary, let’s go about it the right way: with public hearings, full disclosure and robust debate. It might be a little messy, but that’s the way our system is supposed to work.
When the first federal aid to education bill passed Congress in 1965, Washington was expressly barred from specifying course content. That was a crucial restriction. It recognized the dangers posed by the political class ordering what our children should be taught.
Similar concerns should trigger a caution light that at least slows the rush to embrace Common Core.