Over the past weeks and months, I have found myself caught up in numerous conversations with family, friends, and colleagues regarding an increasingly controversial issue. The issue is Common Core. And the arguments I consistently hear against it are the same: The standards are a backdoor attempt by Washington to usurp local control of education and institute a national K–12 curriculum.
If this were the case, I would join the opponents of Common Core instead of debating them. For if the federal government is ever allowed to dictate the substance of our children’s education, it is only a matter of time before the cultural values of our children will be reprogrammed by Washington bureaucrats.
But, thankfully, this is not the case. Put simply, Common Core does not allow the federal government to prescribe what our children learn. Much of the resistance to the program stems from this single misperception, which is itself rooted in a deep distrust of the president. But President Obama isn’t driving the standards, nor did he create them. The states are propelling Common Core. Currently, all but five states have fully implemented the standards. Moreover, the standards began gaining momentum long before Barack Obama was elected president.
The standards now known as Common Core were initiated and developed by governors and other state leaders eager to raise educational standards in a way that was state-led, rather than being a Washington solution. That’s why it is deeply encouraging that so many states are asserting ownership of the standards by adapting them to their needs.
While Common Core standards were designed to raise expectations in three core areas, they do nothing to prevent states from teaching other things they deem important. Nor do they require states to teach only certain texts in those three areas. It is true that Common Core recommends a wide list of materials that state and local leaders can choose from to satisfy the standards, but participating in Common Core does not require that those exact texts be taught.
Not only should Washington, D.C., not be dictating how Alabama’s children are educated, neither should Washington state — or any state other than Alabama. But voluntarily agreeing to participate in a program that ensures that Alabama schools will offer an education equivalent to what a child would receive in 44 other states? I can’t argue with that.
There is simply no evidence that national education standards will lead to a national curriculum, or that they will stifle the ability of states to teach subject areas that matter to parents residing there. To the contrary, many of those who know the standards thoroughly, including the state superintendent of education in Alabama, insist that educators today retain full control in the development, selection, and implementation of the curricula used in our schools.
To many educators and parents, the goals of Common Core are eminently reasonable, particularly in states that rank below average or far below average in the all-important areas of math and science education.
Business leaders, too, are supportive of the higher standards. The Business Council of Alabama, which represents over 5,000 independent businesses across the state, is one of Common Core’s most vocal supporters. The BCA understands that by adopting the education standards used by the vast majority of states, Alabama has signaled to the rest of the country that it will educate its children and future business leaders on the same level as any other state in the country, if not a higher level. Businesses considering Alabama as a potential home will see the state’s use of Common Core as an assurance that the children of their employees and executives will receive a high-quality education.
Today, 25 percent of students in this country fail to graduate from high school. Only 35 percent of eighth-graders perform at grade level in math. And 30 percent of our nation’s high-school graduates cannot pass the U.S. military entrance exam.
Among students who go on to enter four-year colleges, almost 60 percent arrive on campus surprised to learn that they require remedial courses in English or mathematics. They may have thought they had a mastery of those all-important subject areas, but because standards today differ so wildly from school to school and state to state, they are often wrong.
Among students entering two-year colleges, 75 percent require remedial instruction in English, math, or both. This remedial education imposes as much as $3 billion in costs on students and their families annually, and $7 billion on taxpayers and colleges.
Common Core establishes uniform standards — standards that must be met regardless of the curriculum a state decides to adopt. The standards demand accountability. They give the things that really matter — reading, writing, and arithmetic — priority over subject matter that does little or nothing to prepare kids for college and the workforce. And ultimately, the Common Core standards will make American students more competitive with their international peers.
All of these goals are worthy, and they deserve the support of both Republicans and Democrats.
— Bob Riley is the former governor of Alabama.