The editors of the Washington Post yesterday detailed the growing opposition to the Common Core standards. Last week the Chicago teachers' union passed a resolution against the standards joining many groups on both the political left and right that have turned their back on the Common Core. Liberals, including the teachers' unions and many of their members, say that the Common Core has been rushed in its implementation and therefore assert that it is unfair to hold school staff accountable for poor student standardized test scores. Many conservatives and libertarians claim that the Common Core is a federal takeover of pubic education, a policy area that has traditionally been under local control.
While average citizens may not know what exactly to make of the Common Core this much is certain: the reaction we have witnessed is completely predictable. In her fantastic book "The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way," author Amanda Ripley documents that whenever tougher school academic standards have attempted to be implemented in this country those standards have been quickly diluted or totally eliminated.
Here's the background on the Common Core. President G.W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Law for the first time in history held public schools accountable for the quality of their academic programs by measuring student results on standardized test scores. The legislation allowed states to establish their own grading scales for judging proficiency in reading and math. The problem was that in many jurisdictions the level students needed to reach to be judged proficient were lowered to make the results look better than they should have been. Education policy leaders noticed that in many places where students were found to be proficient these results did not match scores recorded on other measures such as the NAEP exam or the international PISA test.
The development of the Common Core standards began when Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano was head of the National Governors Association during the 2006 to 2007 term. She created a task force to investigate improving math and science education as a way of preparing kids for entering the workforce. The Common Core State Standards came out of an alliance between the NGA, Council of Chief State School Officers, and the organization Achieve as a means of implementing the recommendations of the task force. The Obama administration has encouraged its use through the Department of Education's Race to the Top competition. Now the Common Core has been adopted by 45 States and the District of Columbia.
Ms. Ripley found in her research on U.S. public schools that as a society we are particularly weak at being honest with our students regarding their academic abilities. We are afraid to tell them that they are not high performers, as opposed to countries such as Finland and South Korea that are more direct in revealing to students exactly where they stand academically. This is why the reaction to the Common Core was known to many even before the first examination based upon the standards was administered. Students have generally performed poorly on the test. As more and more kids take examinations based upon the new standards the pressure will build to extremely high levels to throw the standards in the trash.
The basis of the Common Core is to teach children to be able to think logically instead of a course of study focused on the memorization of facts. One hope of using the new curriculum is that pupils will score higher on the PISA examination in which young people in the United States have ranked near the bottom compared to those living in other countries. The overall goal is to make Americans more competitive in the global economy.
All of these objectives are enormously valuable. This is why it will be a tragedy when reaction against standardized test scores associated with the Common Core forces the curriculum's removal from our schools.