“Common Core and the Crisis of American Education”

| April 1, 2014


EDITORIAL – In twenty-first century politics, there are few issues which can galvanize support among the far-right Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, independently-minded civil libertarians, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Fierce opposition to common core state standards amid many on the left, right, and center is among the very few.

Common core state standards are a national initiative for universal mathematics and English benchmarks in an attempt to prepare primary and secondary students for matriculation at 2-year or 4-year postsecondary institutions. The initiative is supported by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). All but five states, Alaska, Minnesota (partially), Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia have adopted national common core legislation. Many observers may posit: if all but five states have adopted common core, what is wrong with national education standards?

Diane Ravitch, a nationally-renowned education policy analyst and scholar, recently penned an op-ed where she spoke to the insidious nature of the policy formulation of common core. When common core standards were nationally framed, they failed to adhere to basic norms of transparency, openness, and impartiality. Common core standards were crafted behind closed doors, where those seated at the bargaining table were largely from the testing industry (or possibly more properly, the education-industrial complex). Teachers, parents, experts, and other important constituent groups were all but shut out of the process—certainly, America’s growing number of education lobbyists, testing executives, education consultants, and the like were not.

Aside from the well-funded corporate interests working incessantly to universalize the core curriculum, another major flaw in common core is the unwieldy nature of national standards. Common core standards are concrete. They are unable to change with the issues of the day which demand dynamic change in education. Twenty years ago there were no smart boards, interactive learning platforms, web-learning, e-books, or all of the other advancements in education brought on by the onset of the information age; American education should be positioned to adapt to technologies and innovations which aid in the learning process. Core national standards are rigid and static at a time and place when American education needs dynamic and fluid innovation.

FreedomWorks, a Washington, DC conservative non-profit group, also voiced its opposition to common core. National standards are bad for parents. America’s parents will not have a say in the education of their children. For the proponents of school choice, this should be a major drawback. Truly in the school choice debate, it is not a conversation about charter schools versus public schools, but a discussion over the quality and type of education we want our children to receive. In common core, any say or choice is all but removed.

Republican Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, recently made national headlines when the Hoosier State became the first state in the union to drop common core standards from the curriculum, after having previously adopted them. Gov. Pence told the press, “I believe when we reach the end of this process there are going to be many other states around the country that will take a hard look at the way Indiana has taken a step back, designed our own standards and done it in a way where we drew on educators, we drew on citizens, we drew on parents and developed standards that meet the needs of our people.”

Much broader is the question of whether national standards are even an effective and practical strategy. America is a nation of bustling and diverse Northeastern urban centers, rural and tepid southern expanses, plainspoken and humble Midwestern prairie, and dense and busy western coastal cities—in short, America is a patchwork of very different cultures and peoples. Are the same exact standards in pastoral Nebraska right for highly-developed Massachusetts? Should those living in the far-reaches of arctic Alaska be subjected to the same tests as those living in comfortable suburban Virginia outside of Washington, DC? In a nation as diverse as the United States, rigid pro-testing standards should not be imposed on every student from every nook and cranny in the union.

The debate has caused an interesting partisan rift as well. In the Republican Party, the Tea Party-wing is heavily opposed to national common core standards, concomitantly, the pro-business contingent of the GOP, largely composed of supporters from the Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been pushing for common core as a method of pushing for consistent ‘workforce development’.

Common core state standards are yet another attempt by well-funded corporate interests, the educational-industrial complex, and insulated interest groups to ram a profit-seeking agenda through the chambers of state legislatures throughout the country. The opportunity-cost is student creativity and innovation, a substantive learning environment, and an actual transparent national conversation on the importance of reforming America’s education system.

Let’s not tie the hands of our teachers and place school administrators in a straightjacket. Undoubtedly, American education needs serious reform. But the reform needed and desired are changes where there can be a national conversation—a dialogue where teachers, parents, and administrators are welcomed to the process, not lobbyists from America’s testing industry, unions, or DC policy shops. America’s strength lies in how it educates our future generations, something too sacred to be left to political hacks and partisan activists.

To President Obama, a staunch supporter of common core: don’t impose a special interest-crafted education program on America’s children. Could broad national standards be an effective tool in revamping American education?—keeping all options open, possibly. But not these common core state standards, not when the most important components (parents and teachers) are all but shut out of the process entirely. As previously expounded, American education needs serious reform, but let’s do it right, let’s ensure future generations can succeed, and let’s restore America’s place as the world leader in education—and that’s not something common core state standards will do.

Overcoming The "One Day I'll..." Syndrome
Orchestrating Your Retirement Accounts

About the Author:

Filed in: Features, Opinion

6 Comments on "“Common Core and the Crisis of American Education”"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. R Mitchell says:

    dont let obama or deal take away choice in our schools. here in south Ga we should decide our curriculum. Not folks in Dc or Atl. hats off to the author.

    • Nick Rudnik says:

      Thanks for the feedback! I concur with the notion that common core takes away school choice–in this case, choice in the curriculum. That’s not to say that no standards are the solution. There has to be a balance between oversight and substantive choice in what is taught to our children. Where than line exactly is, I’m not sure. But I’d like that line to be left to parents and teachers; not high paid lobbyists and consultants in Washington and Atlanta. -Nick

  2. F says:

    Mr. Rudnik,
    Nicely written article sir. Though they change the names of “the standards”, the fact is that quality teaching comes down to a few things: knowledgable teachers, caring teachers, and parents that have an active role in their children’s life. The government can change the names all they want, but it still leaves out the wild card…social factors and parenting. Also, I think you and I both agree that this is not a problem that the govt. can continue to just “throw” money at.
    Take care and keep up the good work.

    • Nick Rudnik says:

      Thank you for the constructive feedback, much appreciated! Education should be left to those who know it best–teachers. The education of our youth is far too sacred to be politicized and bastardized. Certainly funding is important to ensure our students have adequate resources, but No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top both incentivize good performance at the expense of the lowest performing schools–who often need the funding more than the best performing institutions. I think national standards can be useful, but not as long as they shut our teachers and parents out of the process. There are certainly more solutions in PK-12 education than more money inflating the process. -Nick

  3. Momma says:

    No need to look to DC or Atlanta to lay blame
    when the Lowndes Co Board of Education is
    located on Norman Drive.

    • Nick Rudnik says:

      Certainly, we need to pressure our local school boards and its functionaries for more assertive leadership in reforming PK-12 education, but often times their hands are tied by federal and state regulations. There are three seats expiring at the end of this term on the Lowndes County Board of Education–you can certainly make positive change in the ballot box; if you’re upset at the board’s current composition: vote them out and encourage your friends and colleagues in the community to do the same.