The Common Core Blame Game

by Sonny Perdue
Conservatives are acting like liberals.

Every so often a public-policy issue arises that, fairly or unfairly, manages to become a convenient vehicle on which one political party or the other can pile its dissatisfaction, grievance, and resentment. The Common Core State Standards have become just that sort of favorite preoccupation for many conservatives — and much of the criticism is unwarranted.

It reminds me of the national debate over climate change. Conservatives throw up their hands when some on the left or in the mainstream media explain every deviation in weather as a consequence of climate change. Climate change, we’re told, is responsible for heavy rains and drought alike. Whether temperatures are unseasonably low or high, global warming is the culprit. Snowstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes have been around since the beginning of time, but now they want us to accept that all of it is the result of climate change.

It’s become a running joke among the public, and liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.

That same dynamic is in place regarding education standards, except this time it’s the conservatives who are losing credibility by making absurd charges about Common Core, which is really nothing more than a bipartisan effort by 45 governors to ensure that kids can do math and English at an appropriate level before they move on to the next grade.

Core State Standards have been falsely described as a curriculum directly pulled from communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin’s playbook. One conservative “news” report blamed the Standards for “show[ing] fourth graders gory, painful ways to kill class pets” and making PETA propaganda required reading in the classroom. In another example, first graders were reportedly sent home with a questionnaire that sought, among other inappropriate intrusions, to identify whether the student had sexual-identity issues. When the irate parent blamed the questionnaire on Common Core, conservative media outlets cheerfully went along.

While some of the critics are voicing legitimate concerns about the merits of a system of academic benchmarks, Common Core is frequently a straw man for the frustrations conservatives have with the federal government. As a result, the standards are routinely conflated — often willfully — with curricula, lesson plans, confusing test questions, and even illogical homework problems.

The fact is that Common Core is no more responsible for a bizarre homework question than global warming is for a rain shower.

The simple facts are these: We need higher standards in our schools, and we need to hold teachers accountable for the outcomes in their classrooms. Right now, one in three high-school graduates cannot pass the basic military entrance exam because they haven’t learned the basics. We know we can do better.

States that have set higher standards, such as Kentucky and Florida, have made amazing progress. And they’ve done it in a way that’s compatible with the Core Standards and has kept local control of schools.

The Core Standards, which are available online for anyone to read, were designed by the states to ensure that states retain the autonomy to implement their preferred curriculum. If the standards don’t go far enough, states have the ability to make them even stronger.

I am a conservative Republican from the South. In my eight years as governor I did everything I could to resist federal control of issues that belong to the states. I would never endorse a policy that undermines that philosophy, and these new education standards are consistent with conservative principles.

Core Standards will improve the quality of education in schools at a time when only one in four students will graduate from high school fully prepared for college.

Ultimately, there is no reasonable argument against that.

— Sonny Perdue is a former two-term governor of Georgia (2003–11). He was the first Republican to be elected governor of the state since Reconstruction.