Common Core’s battle with the political memeApril 22nd, 2014 by Steven Gardner
As mentioned in an earlier post, we are beginning to take a deeper look at Common Core with the idea of presenting more factual information here in the Kitsap Sun. Not surprisingly, since that last post there have been more drum beats against the idea behind Common Core standards. For many on both sides of the aisle the program smacks of a federal takeover of education.
And when something like Common Core arouses suspicion, it’s easy to find examples where someone has been perhaps operating under those standards and has done something questionable. It’s what we do. If you don’t like a church you can find examples where church members have behaved badly and say “Aha!” The most recent anti-Common Core meme I’ve seen was a reaction to a book that questioned whether America would be too racist to elect a black president. First off, I agree that the language on the page is at least inexact when it says, “But some people said Americans weren’t ready for that much change. Sure Barack was a nice fellow they said. But white voters would never vote for a black president.”
It’s inexact because someone could read that and see that as questioning whether any white voter would vote for Obama. But the question was whether there were enough white voters who might not vote for him because he was black. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t precedent. Consider the Oct. 13, 2008 story from CNN that asked whether “The Bradley Effect” would rear its head. From that story:
The Bradley effect is named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who ran for California governor in 1982. Exit polls showed Bradley leading by a wide margin, and the Democrat thought it would be an early election night. But Bradley and the polls were wrong. He lost to Republican George Deukmejian. The theory was that polling was wrong because some voters, who did not want to appear bigoted, said they voted for Bradley even though they did not.
As it turns out the Bradley Effect was likely overstated anyway, but the question persisted in 2008. To suggest it didn’t is to ignore the facts.
And now we’ve spent all that conversation on something that, as it turns out, is largely not affected at all by Common Core. The decision to use this text book was made locally. Common Core is a set of standards, a program established by governors of American states and business leaders. When states buy into Common Core, they’re agreeing to meet new education standards. And in every case I know of, the new standards are tougher. Each state is still responsible to educate its own kids and establish its own curriculum. What each state is largely agreeing to by joining the Common Core states is ensuring that kids across the country are learning the same basics. How they teach those basics is up to them.
Beyond that is the notion that kids across the nation will be subjected to scary propaganda because of a quest for national education uniformity. If Common Core’s supporters are to be believed, that’s hype and hysteria winning over reality. David Brooks makes that case in a New York Times column in which he describes the Common Core political climate as a “circus.”
On the right, the market-share-obsessed talk-radio crowd claims that the Common Core standards represent a federal takeover of the schools. This is clearly false. This was a state-led effort, and localities preserve their control over what exactly is taught and how it is taught. Glenn Beck claims that Common Core represents “leftist indoctrination” of the young. On Fox, Elisabeth Hasselbeck cited a curriculum item that supposedly taught students that Abraham Lincoln’s religion was “liberal.” But, as the education analyst Michael J. Petrilli quickly demonstrated, this was some locally generated curriculum that was one of hundreds on a lesson-sharing website and it was promulgated a year before the Common Core standards even existed.
As it’s being attacked by the talk-radio right, the Common Core is being attacked by the interest group left. The general critique from progressives, and increasingly from teachers’ unions, is that the standards are too difficult, that implementation is shambolic and teachers are being forced into some top-down straitjacket that they detest.
All of this is having an effect on the public. A story in Tuesday’s Yakima Herald-Republic aired some of the concerns educators know about during an education summit in Yakima. And toward the end of the story Chris Barron, who once worked here at the Kitsap Sun and is now communications manager for the statewide education organization Partnership for Learning, said in 2015, when Washington is scheduled for full Common core implementation, there could be lots of negative parental reaction. Kids’ test scores are likely to go down that year. The tests students take now measure basic skills. Tests next year will measure college and career readiness, a higher standard.
President Obama is probably not helping. In some part that’s based on stupid political reasons. His support for the program creates automatic resistance to it. But he’s also linking Common Core to grants and waivers under No Child Left Behind, which you’ll recall was enacted under the previous president. That has the taste and feel of the federal government interjecting itself into local education.
The question in all of this is whether Common Core will succeed or fail on its merits/flaws, or on the political climate at the time. The truth will be in there somewhere.