Letter | Important questions must be raised about Common Core education plan

12/26/2013 12:00 AM

12/24/2013 3:11 PM

Two recent letters to The Sun News have touted the virtues of Common Core for our schools. John Stahler (Dec. 18) assures us that “The Common Core State Standards Initiative was not created by the evil regime in Washington. It was an idea that started at the National Governors Association with the help of the Council of Chief State School Officers.”

That is both true and misleading. Common Core comes to us from the educational establishment. This establishment is pretty much the same from state to state. These Chief State School Officers turned to the “education experts” for what a common core should look like.

The state governors have fallen into line. After all, this is what the experts are recommending. Common Core was quietly and effectively making its way to national implementation (through state legislatures) without any apparent opposition. The public at large knew very little, if anything, about what Common Core entails. Then questions began to emerge from various sources across the political spectrum, and suddenly Common Core has become controversial, both in terms of its process as well as its substance.

Common Core is perhaps best compared to the Affordable Care Act. That was an act that sounded like a good thing to many people. After all, who would oppose affordable health care? But the more we learned about it, the more questions began to emerge. Many people wondered about a legislative process that required Congress to pass a bill before its members (or the public) knew what was in it.

The roaring negative response to the Affordable Care Act not only continues, but it is growing daily. That may well turn out to be the fate of Common Core.

In his letter, Mr. Stahler repeats two common myths about Common Core. First he assures us that “the federal government had no role in the development of the Common Core Standards and will not have a role in their implementation. . . .and adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory.” At a superficial level that is true.

But he conveniently ignores “Race to the Top.” To participate in the competition for federal dollars associated with “Race to the Top,” a state must have adopted Common Core. Yes, “adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory,” but the pressures are there to move states in the direction of adopting those friendly, advisory standards.

The second myth perpetuated is that “The Common Core State Standards drafting process relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country.” Very few teachers were involved in this process. And who are these “standards experts”? Who decided that this particular group of standards experts would be the ones deciding what Common Core standards would be?

Mr. Stahler lets the cat out of the bag when he tells us that teachers were brought in “to provide specific, constructive feedback on the standards.” In fact, these standards were developed mostly by people with very little actual classroom experience. The Pearson Publishing Company was one of the major players in the creation of Common Core, and it stands to be one of the primary beneficiaries of Common Core.

Pearson boasts on its website: “We understand that you face challenges as you plan and implement the Common Core. From how to fund the initiative, to preparing teachers for the instructional shifts, to helping students meet new more rigorous expectations, we are here to help you meet all the twists and turns head on.” You can bet Pearson is there to help.

It is revealing that Diane Ravitch, the greatest of scholars on the history of education reform in America and Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, has become a strong opponent of Common Core. She well recognizes that Common Core will at best do no harm (while costing us millions if not billions of dollars more) or it has the potential to do great harm. The Common Core mythology will continue. But there are promising signs that the public is awakening.

The writer is a professor in the Department of Politics and Geography at Coastal Carolina University and lives in the Burgess Community.

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