Common Core standards driving wedge in education circles
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – When did fractions and non-fiction become so controversial?
A high-profile effort by a pair of national education groups to strengthen, simplify and focus the building blocks of elementary and secondary education is finally making its way into schools. But two years ahead of its planned implementation, critics on both the right and left are seizing upon it. A few educators say the new standards, supported by the U.S. Department of Education, are untested, and one Republican governor wants to block the measure, saying it’s a federal intrusion into local decisions.
How did something so simple become so fraught?
The story begins in 2009, when the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced an effort to create voluntary national standards in math and reading. All but four states — Arkansas, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia — quickly signed on to the standards, known as the Common Core, agreeing to help create then implement them by 2014. Their decision was helped partly by President Obama, who has tied “college and career-ready standards” to billions in federal grants. Last September, he all but required adoption of the Common Core if states want to receive federal waivers from the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.
That angered conservatives, who point out that even though adopting the Common Core is voluntary, Obama’s moves make it all but obligatory. In February, Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she’d support a state legislative effort to block Common Core implementation — her predecessor had adopted the standards in 2010.
“Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the Federal government,” she wrote in a letter to a state lawmaker, “neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states.”
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan shot back with unusual candor, saying in a statement that Haley’s fear of losing control is “a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy.”
Also in February, Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless issued research calling into question whether the Common Core would have much of an effect. He noted that state standards have done little to equalize academic achievement within states. The reaction, he says, was “like putting my hand in a hornet’s nest — people do have a strong reaction to the Common Core.