Common Ground on the Common Core

Any time conservatives and liberals in this country agree on anything, it’s time to stop the presses, glance heavenward to see if pigs happen to be zooming by, and check the temperature in you-know-where.

It might also be time to pay attention.

One of those rare areas of agreement between left and right these days is over the Common Core, the new set of national standards for public schools. Neither conservatives nor liberals—at least the ones I know—seem to like the idea very much.

Developed mostly by bureaucrats and politicians, critics say, with little input from parents and teachers, the Common Core is technically voluntary, in that states can decide whether or not they want to follow it. But it’s also heavily incentivized by the federal government, meaning states that fall in line can expect to gain financially. So far 46 states, including my own home state of Georgia, have signed on to some or all of the standards.

Conservatives’ objections to the Common Core have been well documented. In the Atlanta area, the battle over the Core has been much in the news lately, following several contentious school-board meetings in an affluent suburban county. Those meetings were “crashed” by local Tea Party members railing against the standards, which they believe represent a rather transparent attempt by the federal government to nationalize public education.

They also believe that decisions about curriculum, textbooks, and teacher qualifications should be made locally, not at the national level. And they’re convinced that, under the Common Core, what they regard as the indoctrination and “dumbing down” of public-school students will continue apace.

What isn’t as well publicized is the fact that many liberal Democrats oppose the Common Core, too. In Indiana, a Democratic candidate for state school-board superintendent ran largely on an anti-Core platform—and handily beat the Republican incumbent, a well-known proponent of the nationalized standards.

In my community, one of the people who has been most outspoken in opposition to the Core happens to be a good friend of mine, an Obama voter whose politics I would describe as center-left—not exactly a Tea Partier. He was kind enough to share with me some of his specific objections and consent to my quoting him here.

The first problem with the Common Core, he notes, is that it’s “corporatist, not capitalist … driven more by perceived Chamber of Commerce needs than student needs. While a good education may prepare a student for a good job, career training should not be the primary purpose of public schools.”

Second, “the Common Core is a top-down initiative developed at the federal level and ‘incentivized’ on states without extensive feedback from states or their citizens.”

Third, “the Common Core does not reflect any consensus on the part of teachers.”

Fourth, “the Common Core takes the emphasis away from reading literature and shifts it onto reading pamphlets and government documents, which presumably train workers better.”

Fifth, “the Common Core has not been field tested. Many states have adopted the Common Core without even knowing exactly what it is, aside from some clever packaging.”

Finally, he says, “the Common Core is No Child Left Behind on steroids,” adopting “the worst high-stakes testing elements of NCLB … despite spotty evidence at best that NCLB has succeeded.”

So here’s what I’m wondering: If so many at both ends of the political spectrum think the Common Core is a bad idea, who exactly is pushing it? That’s a question all of us, left and right, should probably keep in mind next time we go to the ballot box.

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