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Common Core vs. State Standards

February 28, 2015

Reading “Happy Talk History”,Timothy Egan’s NYTimes column yesterday, and “Who Should Decide How Students Learn About America’s Past”, Jacoba Urist’s Atlantic post earlier this week reminded me how important it is to have a uniform set of academic standards for our country, standards that we can find broad agreement on and expect all our students to master. Both columns address the legislative debacle in Oklahoma where a fundamentalist Christian member of the House in Oklahoma introduced a bill to defund AP History because it was too critical of America and to put in its place a curriculum that emphasized the Christian roots of our country. Happily the bill was ditched after the committee voted 11-4 to advance it, in large measure because of the huge national embarrassment the legislation created for the state.

But I fear the re-write of history by Oklahoma’s legislature is a sneak preview of what will happen if the federal government gives States “flexibility” to set their own standards and devise their own accountability measures. The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind intends to do just that and, in doing so, will presumably address the concerns of both those who believe we are testing kids too much and those who believe the federal government is imposing its will on states through the Common Core. If States like Oklahoma are giving the chance to write their own curriculum Common Core opponents may have regrets… and yes, I know the Common Core is limited to Math and Reading but if states are allowed to set standards what will preclude them from setting standards in science that deny global warming and question evolution or setting standards in history that gloss over the troubling past we have with regard to slavery and the treatment of native Americans. And those who believe we are placing too much emphasis on tests may rue the day Andrew Cuomo’s “reforms” are put in place instead of those advocated by Arne Duncan… and Cuomo’s test-based “reforms” may be tame compared to what comes out of the midwest or south. Indeed, it is not too hard to envision a “testing” race analogous to an “arms race” or “the war on drugs”… a testing race where states try to outdo each other by setting every increasingly impossibly high standards to prove they are more rigorous than their neighbors.

I am not at all unhappy to see Arne Duncan’s wings clipped, but AM disappointed that President Obama used Race to the Top as his signature “education reform”. Instead of insisting that states use computers to administer standardized tests he could have insisted that states use technology to help each student develop individualized learning plans. Instead of moving toward a one-size-fits-all curriculum mode he could have gone where Vermont is headed. The inability of Congress to modify NCLB created a crisis early in Obama’s administration, a crisis that was amplified by the economic crisis the nation was facing. Obama wasted both his political capital and capital investment on Race To The Top… and that, more than anything, led to the pushback against the federal government that is being addressed in the reauthorization. He’s sowed the wind and is reaping the whirlwind.

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