Common Core’s strange bedfellows

Editorial by Tim Kalich
Greenwood Commonwealth

Common Core, the national education standards that Mississippi and 44 other states adopted, has been misunderstood and mischaracterized by both the right and the left.
The right, led by the tea party faction of the Republican Party and the chatterboxes on talk radio, have characterized Common Core as an attempt by the Obama administration to establish a national curriculum.
It is neither. Common Core was an initiative by the states, not the federal government, and it is not a curriculum but a set of agreed-upon goals that establish what students should know by the end of each grade, no matter where they go to school. How students get to those goals — that is, the curriculum — is left up to the states and local school districts.
The left, led by teacher unions, is almost as off in its opposition. It says Common Core is too hard, that the schools have had too little time to implement them, and some are asking that the standards be delayed if not dumped.
Common Core is admittedly harder than what Mississippi and most states have been using, but that’s precisely the point. The whole genesis for Common Core was the huge disparities that existed between the educational expectations in each state. A student who would be considered proficient in a low-standard state would be failing with the same score in a high-standard one. The system was duping students and the public and leaving this country badly trailing other developed nations on most academic measuring sticks.
As David Brooks, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, wrote last week, “Huge numbers were graduating from high school unprepared either for college work or modern employment.”
Brooks fears that Common Core could suffer the fate of other “perfectly sensible if slightly boring” ideas that have been buried in hysterical claims and politics. Some states are thinking about backing away. In Mississippi, ultraconservative lawmakers have tried to stir up opposition. So far, thankfully, they’ve been unsuccessful.
Common Core is unlikely to be a cure-all for the ailments of public education in this state. But teaching and testing with the same expectations as the vast majority of the other states is going to be good for Mississippi.
Students in this state and their families need to know how they stack up to their counterparts around the country. If they’re behind, it will pressure not only the students to do better but the schools as well.