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Are Common Core State Standards getting a fair shake?

From Michelle Malkin’s tweets to Glenn Beck’s multi-show rant on the subject, many appear to be gearing up to fight the new national education standards referred to as the Common Core State Standards Initiative. But is Common Core getting a bad rap?

What is Common Core?

Common Core is supposed to be a broad set of standards for American public school education. This set of standards is meant to equalize scores, tests and the quality of education across the country.

Straight from the horse’s mouth, the mission statement for Common Core:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. 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. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

What Common Core is not

Common Core is not a national curriculum. Each school district has within its purview the choice of which materials and lessons to teach in order to meet the standards outlined by Common Core. Many of the examples given by detractors of Common Core appear to be about the curriculum used to implement Common Core and not about Common Core itself.

Common Core is not a federal program. It was started by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, although the federal government did offer states incentives to adopt Common Core by attaching it as a requirement to receive some federal funding such as from Race to the Top and other federal programs.

As a result, some states did not accept Common Core or the funding that came along with it. As of today, forty-five states and the District of Columbia have elected to adopt Common Core – all except Alaska, Nebraska, Virginia, Minnesota and Texas.

Uproar over Common Core

Criticisms range from a poor choice of priorities to an outright intent to indoctrinate our nation’s school children to it being part of a federal takeover of our schools. The issues seem to originate with problems that are not necessarily due to the standards, but with either specific school districts’ interpretations of those standards or with materials chosen for use in the schools.

While there doesn’t appear to be an organized campaign to undermine Common Core there have been cries (mostly from the right) to rid ourselves and our schools of this program.

Standards versus Curriculum

There are most certainly issues that have come to light wherein books chosen for use in schools participating in Common Core have run afoul not only of history but of the line between public education and “government” education.

There are more than a few valid concerns regarding what appears to be the injection of a political agenda into educational materials. This is nothing new and, contrary to popular misconception, has very little to do with Common Core.

Some of the most egregious examples are from Texas, a state that is not adopting Common Core. In fact, despite Texas’ rejection of Common Core, their statewide program, CSCOPE may actually be in even worse shape than Common Core – for many of the same reasons.

Why do we need a national standard for education?

It helps to examine exactly what Common Core is supposed to be and then to track where various schools deviate from the concept and perhaps even from the Common Core plan itself.

Common Core is supposed to be a set of standards that will bring education across multiple states in line with one another. Stated another way, it is a method designed to ensure the standards being taught in Nevada will more closely resemble those being taught in Florida, and vice-versa.

With so many educational resources being shared across state lines it has become increasingly difficult for schools. This applies not just to money but teachers and students as well.

For example, a student moving to Nevada from California will find a disparity between the standards being taught. This means a period of adjustment for the student along with the rest of their class. Many teachers cite this as an unnecessary disruption at a time when teaching is difficult enough.

Second, teachers themselves are hired upon graduation from colleges and universities from all across the country. So, unless Nevada intends to hire their teachers exclusively from UNLV and UNR, it aids our own schools to have trained professionals who come prepared to teach the expected standards on day one.

Should we ever allow federal funding without expecting a proper return on our investment?

Like it or not, Nevada schools do rely heavily on federal funding, especially for those schools that are struggling most. This is an issue in which what many Americans want isn’t likely to happen – at least for some time to come.

Leading conservatives, for example, would like to see school districts refuse all federal money, but the reality is that federal money pays for salaries and other critical needs that our school administrators say they cannot operate without. So unless and until our schools cease to accept that money, the taxpayers from one state should be able to rest assured that their tax dollars won’t be wasted by a neighboring state pouring good money after bad into their failing schools or into programs that deliver very little value.

Whatever a person’s stance on federal funding of education, as long as it is a reality it does make sense to ensure that taxpayers have a right to expect a certain standard of performance for their money – enter Common Core.

The Real Problem

Most of the problems people are describing actually have less to do with Common Core itself than they have to do with politicizing schools and what children are taught. As critics have noted, there is a very real problem with “educators” putting their ideology ahead of the public trust, but this isn’t a result of Common Core. Nor was it the result of No Child Left Behind, an equally misunderstood program.

Whether or not one agrees with federal funding of education, it is a reality and with that reality must come some accountability in the states where that money is spent. For example, New York State takes in more federal money than it contributes yet its schools continue in a downward spiral. But if federal funding were cut entirely, the school system would likely collapse leaving millions of school children without an option for basic primary education.

On the other hand, nobody wants to see the federal government, or any government, continue to throw good money after bad in a system that clearly doesn’t work. Programs like No Child Left Behind and Common Core are supposed to curb this by denying federal dollars to schools that choose to continue on their own path. Some schools have chosen this option, but still face the same “curriculum versus politics” issues that have everybody so upset with Common Core.

Richard MacLean

Richard is a Las Vegas resident. Find him on Twitter: @radioactiverich

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