Written by Ozaukee Press
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 16:58
An enlightened move to elevate America’s public schools with rigorous common goals may be the latest hostage of ideology-driven politics
What is Common Core?
One of two correct answers is: a set of voluntary standards for student achievement in math and English in all grades.
The other is: the subject of a conspiracy theory featuring the evil of federal control of local education.
The Common Core State Standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Education Officers and were adopted with little fanfare or controversy by 45 states, including Wisconsin, starting in 2010.
Three years later, Common Core has become the threat du jour of federal government take-over of life as we know it in America, no matter that the federal government did not create the standards or force states to adopt them. Political talk-radio performers find Common Core, which some have dubbed Obamacore, a useful alternative when a break is needed from ranting about the Affordable Care Act.
The education standards were barely noticed in Wisconsin when they were first adopted, but since national groups identified with conservative political agendas began criticizing them as a federal curriculum forced on local school districts, Republican legislators have been busy in efforts that seem designed to limit or end Common Core in Wisconsin.
The efforts included hearings around the state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week that several out-of-state speakers who criticized Common Core at hearings in Fond du Lac, Eau Claire and Wausau were paid by the American Opinion Foundation, which is affiliated with the John Birch Society.
The Senate and Assembly committees that conducted the hearings are considered hostile to Common Core, and it is widely expected they will recommend legislation to change or eliminate the standards.
And so a set of teaching standards developed by a bipartisan governors group and a non-political education organization and intended to elevate the quality of education in American schools is starting to look like the next hostage taken by ideology-driven politics.
The Common Core standards are an unlikely candidate for that fate.
Wisconsin State School Supt. Tony Evers explained what they are and are not: “The Common Core State Standards are a set of expectations in English language arts and mathematics for what students should know and be able to do in every grade.” They are not a federal curriculum because “a district’s curriculum, textbook adoption and instructional choices all stay at the local level.”
PolitiFact, the newspaper fact checking project, confirmed that Common Core is totally voluntary for states and found that the only involvement of the federal government is that it has included adoption of Common Core Standards as one of several ways for states to qualify for grants under the No Child Left Behind law signed by President George W. Bush.
The standards are rigorous. They have to be to better prepare students to succeed in college and in careers that will inevitably be impacted by global competition. Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Wisconsin public school students will have to take standardized tests based on Common Core Standards. Teacher evaluations may be based on the results.
No doubt, the standards put pressure on students and teachers, but that’s not what bothers most of Common Core’s critics. They have something a lot scarier to worry about—federal control of local education. It’s a conspiracy, you know.