Suzanne Fields

Some conservatives call it "Obamacore." It's unfair to compare Common Core to the disastrous government takeover of health care, but it's true that many states adopted Common Core standards because they were tied to more than $4 billion in "Race-to-the-Top" grant money. (We're pretty good at catchy slogans.) Common Core doesn't promote "godlessness," as some Christian critics charge, but it does narrow the perspective as literary and historical texts are shorn from the larger context.

The sharp criticism and re-examination of Common Core reveals dangerous fault lines. There's an overreaching by the political and philanthropic power in an alignment of the Obama administration with money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There's the risk of liberal-bias creep.

Common Core "sowed suspicion and distrust" when those who were pushing it ran roughshod over public questions and concerns, says Diane Ravitch, an assistant secretary of education in the George H.W. Bush administration. The process of adoption lacked transparency, field testing and a way to appeal its decisions. Teachers were mostly absent from the development of standards, and the public was a bystander.

"Education without representation," as bloggers put it.

The Common Core was instituted in many states without a single vote taken by an elected lawmaker, observes Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post. "Kentucky even adopted the standards before the final draft had been made public." But Kentucky officials knew that eight of every 10 students in their community colleges were taking remedial courses, a clear indictment of their public school system. Kentucky was not alone with failing educational systems.

There were exceptions. Massachusetts reformed its schools without Common Core, writing high standards with rigor and discipline, teacher testing and high scores on student tests. Scores rose to the best in the nation, competitive in math and science with Japan, South Korea and Singapore, which led on the international index. Massachusetts then, not so inexplicably, bought into Common Core. There was all that federal money that came with Common Core.

Conservative politicians are reading their future in criticism of Common Core. Although a long shot for the Republican nomination for the presidency, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana sees an opening with such criticism, joining popular Tea Party favorites Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, are so far sticking with it.

As states peel away, a new debate can be joined, and Common Core will get the close examination it was denied earlier. But time is running out for the next generation of graduates. Something has to make their diplomas worth something.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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