Common Core: Who loves it, who hates it and why?
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Recently, I wrote about the history of opposition to Common Core, noting that at this point it is neither an unqualified success nor an unmitigated failure. Student scores have not improved significantly, if at all, in nearly a decade.
But many states who have adopted Common Core — or adapted several of its principles and procedures — profess relative satisfaction. One of the biggest obstacles to Common Core’s success is that three different groups claim a stake in its outcome, and they passionately disagree about almost everything related to the program.
Here’s a brief overview of their conflicting views, motives and tactics.
Conservative Politicians, Think Tanks and Bloggers
Opposition to common core by some conservatives has been apparent within a year or two of the program’s inception and has only grown as the program developed. Their argument is stated unapologetically in a 2013 FreedomWorks article, entitled “The Top 10 Reasons to Oppose Common Core.”
“The ultimate goal of Common Core is to have every school district follow the same national standards. This is a failed educational approach that will undermine educational quality and choice. States and local communities better know how to design standards based on their students and parents’ needs than Washington bureaucrats.”
Underlying this argument is a long-recognized conservative suspicion of federal programs generally, one that traces as far back as the Civil War, where states’ rights (as opposed to federal mandates) underlay the formation of the Confederacy. For many conservatives, and despite the fact that the initiative began during the Bush administration, it didn’t help that the program became associated with President Barack Obama.
Among conservatives, the Republican origins of Common Core are generally ignored or forgotten. The basic plan to oppose Common Core runs through Republicans in Congress, although some progressives oppose it as well, largely because the program is generally unpopular among Americans, many of them generally suspicious of Washington regardless of political party and because of a claimed lack of input from teachers.
The strategy often employed by Senators and particularly Representatives opposed to Common Core, as with H.R. 1462, is to include clauses crippling the initiative within bills advancing another purpose. H.R. 1462 provides federal funds “for the education of disadvantaged children,” but also forbids federal officials to “mandate, direct or control…specific instructional content, academic standards and assessments, curricula, or program of instruction,” i.e., Common Core.
Many parents don’t like Common Core. To some degree, this may be an extension of their political views, but some liberal parents and many parents without any particular political affiliation are also critical.
Polling shows that the underlying reason is baked into the initiative’s mandate. Common Core was designed to provide a more nearly uniform set of standards for every state. For states like Connecticut, which already had high educational standards, this was not a controversial issue.
For states like Alabama, which historically has had relatively low educational standards, the imposition of national standards meant, for many parents, that their children were suddenly judged to be below average in educational attainment. This, from one perspective, is simply inevitable — there’s no way of raising educational standards without evaluating, and hence judging, current educational achievement levels. But for many parents this amounted to classifying their children as failures.
Parents in general haven’t organized over this, but they are voters and their widespread disapproval has fueled Congressional opposition.
Several polls indicate that about as many teachers support Common Core — 75% — as parents oppose it. Support diminishes, however, among high-school teachers, where approval runs a little over 40%.
Elementary school teachers are supportive because they’ve generally found that while the new standards are challenging, they’re also helping (or if you prefer, “pressuring”) students to learn better and faster.
Teachers’ unions have followed the national trend of diminishing enthusiasm for the Common Core. Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teacher strongly supported Common Core as it began. By 2014, however, support was less enthusiastic. Some individual unions, notably the Chicago Teachers Union, have opposed Common Core, especially over what they consider the “over-use and abuse of testing.”
An Overview of the Disputes (and an Opinion)
Even proponents of the Common Core concede that it had a shaky rollout — the textbooks needed to teach in compliance with the initiative were widely unavailable for the first year or two. Regrettably, and despite the fact that the Common Core was initiated under a Republican administration, it has attained the unwelcome distinction of becoming a rallying cry among political conservatives.
But it’s not just the politically committed who oppose the Common Core. The national Zeitgeist is against it. Garrison Keillor’s joke about Lake Woebegon, a town where every child is above average, has more or less come to life and become an acceptable delusion for many parents. The stringent testing that’s an essential part of the Common Core clashes with this kind of pseudo-egalitarianism.
My own opinion? As a former teacher, and despite its imperfect rollout and widespread opposition, I hope the Common Core improves and survives. Our K-12 schools could be a lot better, and acceptance of the Common Core’s testing and standards — along with better school funding, especially teachers’ salaries — are an essential part of making our educational system competitive.
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