The Left Makes Its Move on Common Core

Michael Brickman

3/13/2014 3:15:00 PM - Michael Brickman

For months, some conservatives have been raising questions about the Common Core State Standards—some valid, some not. Several concerns relate to the process officials used to develop and adopt the standards. Others focus on the assertion that the Common Core will result in a federal takeover of curriculum, deep invasions of personal privacy, or indoctrination in the classroom. Unfortunately, these latter charges are based on misinformation about even the basics of what the Common Core standards—or any set of standards, including those that have been in place in every state for years—are actually about.

Those still wondering about such critiques would be well advised to read our evaluation of each state’s old standards in English language arts and mathematics, as well as the Common Core themselves. The standards cover the basics of what students should know in English and math by the time they graduate from high school—and that’s about it.

With so much misinformation out there, facts can be elusive, but they are worth seeking. And even though some conservative criticisms may emanate from bad information, I believe most on the Right share a desire for high expectations for students and strong accountability for the adults and institutions of the education system.

But even conservatives who, despite this information, have made up their mind that the Common Core are an unambiguous evil, should pay attention to the ways many on the Left are now working to take advantage of pockets of unease about the standards (polling still shows strong support for the standards among rank-and-file teachers and the public) and use it to achieve their own ends. If these left-wing advocates get their way, conservatives of all stripes and all viewpoints regarding the Common Core will be seriously disappointed.

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.