For decades, ever since the A Nation at Risk report during the Reagan years, conservatives have fought for higher standards and stronger accountability. Under the leadership of former Reagan administration official Chester E. Finn, Jr., the Fordham Institute has researched and advocated for these policies (along with school choice and other innovative reforms) for many years. The Far Left has never supported real accountability for our schools, and they are now using the backlash to the Common Core to forward their cause.
Recently in New York State, an activist liberal faction within the state teacher union pressured leadership of the union to, in turn, pressure legislators and other state leaders to “pause” implementation of the state’s new teacher-evaluation system. The system was designed to hold adults accountable for how much their students learn in a given year. But under the union proposal, even the state’s very worst teachers could avoid dismissal by claiming their district did not properly implement the Common Core. And “properly” can mean whatever they want it to mean. The direction in which some in New York, and elsewhere, intend to take us is clear.
Meanwhile, pressure has mounted within the national unions to back off of their previous support for the Common Core. In a statement released in February, National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel called for a “course correction,” by which he means delayed implementation of reforms like teacher evaluations that unions begrudgingly went along with.
Conservatives who care about education reform should not be fooled into thinking they have found new allies on the topic of education policy. Many of these voices now opposing the Common Core or calling for a “pause in implementation” are merely doing what they have always done: seeking loopholes, delays, and excuses as to why our education system, which spends more per capita than any other industrialized nation, gets such lackluster results. Students in our communities are absolutely capable of meeting these higher standards, but they will not if we adults refuse to unite behind them.
The transition to the Common Core will not be easy, especially in schools that have historically underperformed against states’ old, mediocre standards. But allowing the same interest groups to refashion honest questions about the implementation process into yet another tool to fight against reform will not serve anyone well.
Michael Brickman is the national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where he furthers educational excellence as a commentator on education-reform issues and is a regular contributor to the Flypaper blog and other publications. He currently lives in Washington, D.C. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org