The Battle Against Common Core Standards

Quietly and almost without notice, an initiative which significantly erodes local and state control of school curriculum has passed in 46 states. The Common Core Standards Initiative sets Math and English curriculum in every participating state at the same level. In adopting this “common core” states are relinquishing their right to compose their own education requirements.

Only Alaska, Nebraska, Virginia, and the great state of Texas have refused adoption of the Common Core Standards. State legislators in Indiana, Georgia, Alabama, and South Dakota have introduced repeal measures, but it is so far unclear how successful these measures will be.

One state however has a very real chance to throw off the “one size fits all” standard and preserve a measure of independence in their curriculum. Which state would have the nerve, foresight, intelligence, and independent spirit required for such an effort? Michigan.

That’s right; the state responsible for the tragic disaster that is Detroit, we now find taking a stand in favor of responsible self-governance. The one-time bastion of progressive ideology has seemingly begun a slow policy shift. Tired of being embarrassed, its legislators may finally make true progress possible in the state beginning with reversal of the Common Core Standards Initiative.

Largely a product of the 2009 stimulus plan Democrats passed in congress, the Initiative is a bureaucratic, top-down program heavily influenced by special interests. The Obama administration encouraged the states’ adoption of this initiative by providing incentives through his Race to the Top program. The program was $4.35 billion dollars of carrots swinging in front of fifty hungry rabbits.

The new standards are indeed tougher than many currently in place, but there is also the danger of states being disincentivized from ever raising standards beyond the initiative.

More dangerous still is the misplaced emphasis on common mass learning. Children do not fully “learn” through memorization. Drilling children until they memorize the curriculum may help them pass a test but rarely results in true understanding. Furthermore each child is different, and strictly teaching the “common core” will only impede exceptional students from reaching beyond the mediocre.

In his article “Do We Need a Common Core?” Nicholas Tampio states the problem quite succinctly. “The class… has gone from one where teachers, aides, parents, and students work hard to create a rewarding educational experience, to one where the teachers and students use materials designed by a major publishing house.”

In short, responsibility has shifted from the classroom to educational bureaucrats. Incentives to be creative in the classroom have disappeared.

Putting a stop to implementation of the Common Core would preserve a measure of sovereignty for states to dictate their own, individualized requirements. The Michigan lawmaker introducing the bill, Republican Tom McMillin, put it best when he said, “We don’t want our kids to be common. We want our kids in Michigan to be exceptional.”

The Initiative narrowly focuses on the difficulties high school graduates were facing in college and the job market. Unaddressed is the fact that much of what is currently taught at universities was once considered standard teaching in high school. Instead of simply making high schools better at preparing students for college/careers (something these standards in no way guarantee) more attention should perhaps be given to why even college graduates are learning far less than they did even fifty years ago.

In its essence the Common Core cheapens our children’s education and further erodes the nation’s tradition of Federalism. The argument here is not against educational standards being raised at public schools. The problem is loss of state control in making those standards. Keeping standards under state control puts more power into the hands of parents as opposed to bureaucrats.

Lawmakers should keep in mind that simply changing standards is no guarantee students will actually learn any more than they do now. It may be time to think about a more fundamental shift in the way we educate our children.