The following editorial appears in Tuesday’s Washington Post:
The ideologues have so disfigured Common Core that supporters of the educational reform now dare not speak its name. “The term ‘Common Core' is so darned poisonous, I don’t even know what it means,” Jeb Bush said in response to a question at the Iowa State Fair on Friday. The former Florida governor then described what he does favor: “I’m for higher standards, state-created, locally implemented, where the federal government has no role in the creation of standards, content or curriculum.” In other words, he’s for Common Core.
Perhaps unaware that what they were hearing was practically identical to the policy that’s now reviled on the tea-party right, the audience members clapped and cheered.
We don’t blame Mr. Bush for shying away from the term. Most of the governors and ex-governors he’s competing against in the Republican presidential race have turned fully, not just rhetorically, against it. Some who once stoutly supported the standards, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have buckled under pressure from the right.
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The pressure is built on bogus premises. Common Core is not a federal takeover of education. States developed the standards, accepted them voluntarily and implement them with local flexibility. The federal government merely encouraged states to adopt them, as it should have. The standards also aren’t some conspiracy to force children to learn about climate change and evolution; they cover basics in language arts and math. Even so, Republicans in various states are trying to repeal them, in some cases successfully, or to at least defund implementation.
Liberal opposition to Common Core, meanwhile, is proving at least as harmful. Teachers unions have resisted the accountability that consistent and meaningful testing might bring, and they have used their own form of Common Core sabotage: Along with misguided anti-test activists, they have encouraged parents to refuse to let their children take exams meant to assess how well students are meeting Common Core expectations. They have succeeded in undermining educational standards in New York: Parents pulled an astonishing 20 percent of students grades 3 through 8 out of the tests last school year, upsetting efforts to track student progress.
Those worried about disadvantaged students should be particularly upset. Until the advent of testing, school districts were able to hide their failure to educate poor and minority students and those with learning challenges. Sabotaging standards will allow a return to that era of abdication. The left-right movement of activists, ideologues and unions that is “poisoning” the Common Core brand is willing to sacrifice transparency and accountability for the sake of ideology, job security or some combination. Credit to Mr. Bush, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and other leaders who are fighting the poison.