Blog No. 3 Common Core State Standards: A New Cause for the Tea Party

Our friends in the Tea Party have a new cause. A May 30 article in The Washington Post expanded on earlier press reports that Tea Party groups have mounted a nationwide campaign against the Common Core Standards. Some readers of the blog will doubtless respond “Hunh?” But if you are aware of the Standards only vaguely, or not at all, and are not familiar with the growing controversy surrounding them, now’s the time to catch up.What are the Common Core Standards? They are academic standards for mathematics and English that have now been adopted by 45 states. The Standards were developed under the leadership of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the work was funded largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Standards are explained in some detail at the website of the NGA and CCSSO, Common Core State Standards Initiative (the Initiative). In a brief capsule, the stated mission of the Initiative is to “ provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn.” The Standards are designed to be “robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”For Mathematics, the Standards respond to the fact that “research studies of mathematics education in high-performing countries have pointed to the conclusion that the mathematics curriculum in the United States must become substantially more focused and coherent.” Instruction in English Language Arts will involve “reading a diverse array of classic and contemporary literature as well as challenging informational texts in a range of subjects. Writing skills will emphasize the ability to  develop logical, evidence-based arguments.

Although the Standards have been widely accepted, a belated but formidable backlash is now evident. In some cases, criticism has come from the left, from individuals and groups traditionally wary of testing students and evaluating teachers. The most vigorous criticism, however, has come from the right—including but not limited to the Tea Party. Opposition from the Tea Party has seldom been clearly articulated, and often seems grounded in a misunderstanding of what the Standards do and do not require. (The Standards do not prescribe a curriculum.). Most fundamentally, opposition to the Standards appears to be rooted in concerns that the federal government is encroaching on matters that should be left to the states. For its part, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution opposing the Standards and describing them as “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.”

In addition, as one veteran of the education reform wars, Chester Finn, has noted, some opposition to the Standards may have been stimulated or intensified by the enthusiasm with which they were adopted by the Obama Administration. The federal government had no hand in developing the Standards, but once they had been completed, the Administration quickly endorsed them. While no state is required to adopt the Standards (and under existing law cannot be) adoption of the Standards, or their equal, was made a condition of receiving grant funds under the Race to the Top program.

In any case, the opposition from the right seems misplaced. Control over education will remain very much under state control. The Standards were developed by  state leadership themselves and can be modified in similar fashion. Moreover, as the Initiative explains, under the heading Myths vs. Facts, “The Standards are not a curriculum… Local teachers, principals and superintendents will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to to the individual needs of the students in their classroom.”

Notwithstanding the clamor from the right, many Republicans who are both prominent and indisputably conservative, have stoutly defended the Standards. They include Jeb Bush, Bill Bennett, John Engler, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels. For example, in early May, Mike Huckabee said on his radio show, “Parents and people involved in their local schools should let it be known that core standards are valuable,and they’re not something to be afraid of—they are something to embrace.” He went on to describe the resolution by the Republican National Committee as “very short-sighted.” Even more recently, Jeb Bush urged Michigan Republicans not to abandon the Standards, “Do not pull back. Please do not pull back from high, lofty standards.”

There is a romantic notion among some Republicans that all would be well if the federal government would simply get out of education altogether and leave it entirely to the states. But that claim is contrary to the evidence. If the federal government were to abandon the field, some states would probably do well, but many would not. Indeed, as Jeb Bush has pointed out, it was the conspicuous weakness of state standards that led to the bi-partisan development of the Core Standards in the first place. The quality of education is an issue of national dimensions and importance: it affects our ability to compete globally, our national security, and the strength of our domestic economy (including unemployment and income inequality). Rigorous standards are essential. We cannot afford the luxury of assuming that anything endorsed by the Obama Administration is necessarily, (in Alexander Woollcott’s memorable phrase) “illegal, immoral or fattening.”

That is not to say that the Core Standards should be immune from scrutiny, criticism, debate and, where necessary, revision. All of those activities are appropriate, but they should be undertaken in a spirit of pragmatism rather than partisan rancor. As Chester Finn put it, decisions on educational standards should be based on “what’s good for kids” not on “adult politics.” RINOs should not stand by on the sidelines and let education reform be sacrificed to ideology or politics.

3 thoughts on “Blog No. 3 Common Core State Standards: A New Cause for the Tea Party

  • It’s good to read a reasoned appraisal that avoids knee jerk criticism because it’s supported by ones political opponents (of either stripe).

  • The choice at the word ‘core’ is unfortunate. Over the years we have heard the term ‘core curriculum’ so minimally informed folks might jump to the conclusion that specific classes are being forced upon us by the Feds.

  • We are faced with a Republican party in discord. We are faced with a mean spirited Congress. People are exhausted as pundits continue to cry out for a moral and spiritual revolution inside the Beltway. Rubbish! Why?
    Until members of Congress learn the meaning of community, fellowship and social principles, there can be NO genuine dialogue.
    We must have genuine dialogue to survive.
    We must collectively express our ire at the polls. i.e; getting off our asses in mass.

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