Michelle Gillett: Politics at core of Core bashing



It is time for some facts because the facts are getting twisted, confused, and disregarded as politicians start gearing up for elections.

Conservative Republicans have moved their focus from Obamacare to what they are calling "Obama Core," the educational standards 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted. There really isn’t much that is partisan about the Common Core state standards "which were designed to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn and sets academic benchmarks for all students, regardless of where in the country they live," according to the website TeachHUB.com. "Common Core defines just what students at each grade level need to learn in reading, writing and math so that they stay on track for college and careers."

With an educational system that does not provide equal learning opportunities, the fact is, we need a national curriculum that sets a standard of achievement for every student, no matter what his or her income. A common curriculum means that students in one state will be learning the same core principles as students in another state. If a student moves to a new state, he will arrive with the same skills as his classmates.


Unfortunately, the design and implementation of CCSS has been flawed. The curriculum was initially sponsored and endorsed by two groups: the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). But the curriculum was created by corporate reformers who did not engage in research but depended on their own ideology. The public, teachers and school administrators were not involved in its design. And while states did have a choice about whether or not to adopt the standards, they were told they would be ineligible for federal funding through Race to the Top unless they did.

There is no question that CCSS should have and could have been implemented differently, and teachers and school administrators given more input and time and less pressure to start teaching the new curriculum. Collaboration and feedback from schools should have been required and welcomed before the standards were adopted.

The fact is that the standards came from a bipartisan initiative of governors, and were written by reformers funded by foundations and corporations. So it is confusing that conservative Republicans have chosen to condemn Common Core as their political platform. The fact is the hatred is not for Common Core but for President Obama who has stated that he supports raising educational standards.

What is twisted is that the initiative was created and endorsed by Republican governors and business leaders who don’t really hate the curriculum, they just don’t want to be associated with anything Obama supports. Some of them are suggesting changing the name of Common Core so they can continue their support without being tied to what conservatives are calling a conspiracy to make America a police state.

Of course, some Republicans are truly opposed to a national curriculum, like South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley who told a gathering of Republican women: "We don’t ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children. We want to educate South Carolina children on South Carolina standards, not anyone else’s standards."

Education historian, Diane Ravitch, wrote in a post that she has been a longtime advocate for voluntary standardized tests. Such standards, she writes, should not be "imposed by the federal government; before implemented widely, they should be thoroughly tested to see how they work in real classrooms; and they should be free of any mandates that tell teachers how to teach because there are many ways to be a good teacher, not just one.


I envision standards not as a demand for compliance by teachers, but as an aspiration defining what states and districts are expected to do. They should serve as a promise that schools will provide all students the opportunity and resources to learn reading and mathematics, the sciences, the arts, history, literature, civics, geography and physical education, taught by well-qualified teachers, in schools led by experienced and competent educators." Republicans can rebrand Common Core, but a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. And while Common Core could definitely smell sweeter, it does not need to be uprooted. It just needs to be tended to a little better.

Educators should be invited into a discussion of how best to implement and design the standards they will be teaching; they should be evaluated by their peers not by test scores. The standards should be thoroughly tested before put into place. The fact is, we desperately need to improve education in America.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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