What Parents Should Know About 'Common Core' Education Standards

Though most states in the country adopted "Common Core" education standards in 2010, many American parents still know little about them.

At the same time that teachers’ unions have joined forces with the institutional left on many issues, and more of children’s basic needs are being met by public schools via meal programs and, more recently, Obamacare’s school-based healthcare centers, uninformed parents could be abandoning significant parental rights to education by not questioning what is at the heart of the Common Core.

Joy Pullmann at The Heartland Institute finds the public’s lack of knowledge of the Obama administration’s Common Core initiative particularly disturbing. In an era in which those who value Constitutional limits to government have been critical of the Obama administration’s overreach in many areas, Pullmann observes that the cause for concern is warranted:

Debate should never be discouraged by appeals to what experts say they know or claims that the “general public” is somehow too stupid or lack the proper credentials to make informed choices. Parents whose children will be subject to these new requirements and citizens who will pay for the standards, associated tests, and myriad related initiatives deserve to know what they contain and to have a say in whether states adopt them.

Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City public schools and current vice-president at News Corp., and Sol Stern, author of Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice, have both been around the block enough in the area of education. Both men support the Common Core State Standards and are critical of both conservatives like Pullmann and the Heritage Foundation, as well as “some hard-liners on the educational left” who oppose them.

In a Wall St. Journal op-ed in May, Stern and Klein described Common Core as “one of the most promising education initiatives of the past half century.” They went on to say that, “if implemented properly, they [Common Core standards] can better prepare students for college-level work and to gain the civic knowledge that is essential for democracy to prosper.”

Stern and Klein took to task the “progressive education thinking that has dominated the public schools over the past half-century,” and the pedagogical approaches favored by liberals (i.e., “child-centered; ”teaching for social justice”). They argued that these educators on the left are opposed to Common Core’s “rigorous academic content” that threatens to “undo” the progressives’ “watered-down version” of education.

At the same time, Stern and Klein claimed to be “puzzled” over the “fervid opposition to the Common Core by some conservatives, including tea party activists, several free-market think tanks and, most recently, the Republican National Committee.”

One of the primary objections by conservatives to the Common Core standards is the view that the Obama administration is intent on controlling what is taught at each grade level in schools across the United States. According to the Heritage Foundation, the Obama Department of Education “has used its flagship ‘Race to the Top’ competitive grant program to entice states to adopt the K-12 standards developed by a joint project of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).”

Heritage goes on to say that, in its 2009 Blueprint for Education Reform, the Obama administration suggested that adoption of the Common Core standards could be a qualification for states wanting future Title I funding for low-income schools. Many conservatives considered this an unconstitutional overreach by the federal government into an area reserved historically to the states.

In response to this objection, Stern and Klein argued that the Common Core standards were, in fact, written by both the NGA and the CCSSO, with financial backing of private foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an arrangement they refer to as “constitutional federalism at its best.”

Claiming that the federal government is not “forcing” states to comply with the standards – else, how could some of them opt out of them – Stern and Klein asserted that conservative critics have overlooked that Common Core supports educating students about the nation’s founding and the basis for constitutional government in the United States.

Pullmann, however, disagrees, and points out that all math and English textbooks, as well as national tests – to be taken by all students – are expected to align with the Common Core, thereby pressuring states into adopting them if they want their students to “succeed,” based on what is viewed “successful” by the Obama administration.

Pullmann asserts that some advocates of Common Core insist that the standards are “not a curriculum” and that they will promulgate “an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic.”

She argues:

But the standards are being used to write the tables of contents for all the textbooks used in K-12 math and English classes. This may not technically constitute a curriculum, but it certainly defines what children will be taught, especially when they and their teachers will be judged by performance on national tests that are aligned with these standards.

Adding up all the intricacies of the Common Core standards, Pullmann sees no other way to characterize them other than as “a national takeover of schooling.”

She cites research in the Journal of Scholarship and Practice that demonstrates how the standards will infiltrate every aspect of K-12 education. They will “form the core curriculum of every public school program, drive another stronger wave of high stakes testing, and thus become student selection criteria for K-12 school programs such as Title I services, gifted and talented programs, high school course placement, and other academic programs.”

Pullman states that the “domino effect” of the standards will hit teacher evaluations, since many states tie teacher ratings to students’ performance on tests. In addition, Common Core will affect school choice, since many states that have passed school choice laws require private schools to administer state tests.

Furthermore, college entrance exams, including the SAT and ACT, would now correspond to Common Core, an aspect that would also impact homeschoolers who desire entrance to college. Would they, too, need to use the Common Core standards in order to successfully pass college entrance exams?

Pullman summarizes, “People who characterize Common Core as anything other than a national takeover of schooling are either unaware of these sweeping implications or are deliberately hiding this information from the public.”


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