What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
— Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
As Juliet reminds us, changing the name of something doesn’t change its nature. Yet, in an apparent effort to placate parents, teachers, and taxpayers concerned by the effort to mandate national standards and tests for what every child will learn, several states are considering renaming the Common Core initiative.
Florida is renaming it “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards;” the Hawkeye State is going with “the Iowa Core.” Arizona simply removed the words “Common Core” from its standards altogether, and Louisiana is considering following suit.
To correct the image problem, “we will probably do something really silly like changing the name of it to something else,” Rep. Walt Leger, a Democrat from New Orleans, remarked at a legislative breakfast earlier this month, according to The Louisiana Times-Picayune. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested a similar path to pacify parents during remarks to the Council of Chief State School Officers, advising them to rebrand Common Core, The Washington Post reports.
However, parents and teachers are smart. They know when the wool is being pulled over their eyes.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative, as it is officially known, began in earnest in early 2009. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers drafted the standards, but the effort quickly became a Washington-centric one. To induce states to adopt the standards, the federal government:
- Offered more than $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants.
- Directly financed the two national testing consortia developing the assessments to test whether students learn according to the standards.
- Have offered waivers to states from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind in exchange for common standards adoption.
- Have created a technical review panel for the tests housed at the U.S. Department of Education.
Parents recognize that Common Core national standards and tests will require them to relinquish one of their most powerful tools to effect school improvement: control of academic content, standards, and testing through their state and local policymakers. Parents recognize that Common Core takes their seats at the table, further removing them from the decision-making process in favor of decisions being centrally made by national organizations and Washington bureaucrats.
“The children belong to all of us,” former Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville recently stated. Likewise, according to MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, “We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.” Wrong.
Children belong to their parents – their first educators and the people who have the most at stake in their educational well-being. Accountability is critically important in education, but accountability isn’t achieved by removing parents from the process out of a belief that bureaucrats will make better decisions.
Accountability comes through stating clearly what outcomes are expected and by empowering parents to choose educational options that meet their children’s unique learning needs. Giving parents a right to exit an underperforming public school will put unprecedented accountability on the public education system.
Educational choice, not centralization or uniformity, should be the goal of state reform. National standards and tests remove the ability of parents and teachers to direct academic content and have a homogenizing effect on the educational choices available to families.
Returning to Act II, Juliet proclaims:
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.
Likewise, national standards will retain that homogenizing imperfection without the title Common Core. States have the opportunity to reverse course and reject this centralizing overreach, but it will take more than just a name change.
It will take a total rejection of the effort to nationalize standards, tests, and ultimately, curricula. And it will require states to strengthen and improve excellence in their local schools through state and local policy.
Lindsey M. Burke is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, www.Heritage.org.