NC needs to realize Common Core is a conservative victory

June 5, 2013 

For some time now, outside groups have been vigorously spreading misinformation about the Common Core State Standards. The effort has been relentless, and North Carolina has not been immune to the falsehoods.

North Carolinians should understand that the Common Core arose as a state initiative and, with continued support, the standards will gain traction in schools and yield gains for students as well as for the state.

We can think of six strong, conservative arguments for supporting the Common Core:

1 Fiscal responsibility. You have already invested time and money to implement the new standards. Many districts have already spent scarce dollars training teachers for Common Core’s increased rigor. Calling for a do-over at this point would waste many thousands of man hours already expended. It would also forego the economies of scale that will come from textbooks and other instructional materials that will be cheaper because they won’t have to be customized for every state.

2 Accountability. The Common Core standards are pegged at a high level, which will bring a healthy dose of reality to the education reform conversation. No longer will state tests show that upward of three-quarters of young North Carolinians are “proficient” when the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows the number to be closer to one-third. The truth may be painful but, in the long run, it will serve your children, your educators and your state economy far better.

3 School choice. As strong supporters of parental choice, we are often asked how to reconcile our enthusiasm for the Common Core. Doesn’t it force a “one-size-fits-all” approach onto schools? The short answer: No. Standards describe what students are expected to know and be able to do. Written correctly, they do not dictate any particular curriculum or pedagogy. Plus, the information that comes from standards-based testing gives parents a common yardstick with which to judge schools and make informed choices.

4 Competitiveness. While the U.S. dithers, other countries are eating our lunch. If we don’t want to cede the 21st century to our economic and political rivals – China especially – we need to ensure that many more young Americans emerge from high school truly ready for college and career. No, that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to go to a four-year liberal arts college. But as Lamar Alexander used to say when governor of Tennessee, “Better schools mean better jobs.” This is why the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce support the standards because they will help ensure that students are ready to succeed on the job.

5 Innovation. The Common Core standards are encouraging a huge amount of investment from states, philanthropy groups and private firms, which is producing Common Core-aligned textbooks, e-books, professional development, online learning and more. Online learning especially is going to open up a world of choices for students and families, and it is going to be aligned to the Common Core, not to individual state standards. (Just in the past few weeks, we learned that the much-admired Khan Academy is developing Common Core-aligned math lessons for students or schools to use at no cost.)

6 Traditional education values. The Common Core standards are worth supporting because they’re educationally solid. They are rigorous, they are traditional – one might even say they are “conservative.” They expect students to know their math facts, to read the nation’s founding documents and to evaluate evidence and come to independent judgments. In all of these ways, they are miles better than three-quarters of the state standards they replaced – standards that hardly deserve the name and that often pushed the left-wing drivel that Common Core critics say they abhor.

We understand that many conservatives are justifiably angry about the inappropriate role the Obama administration has played in promoting and taking credit for these standards, which in fact arose from state leadership. The standards were developed by the states, and implementation is unquestionably a state effort, not a federal one.

Yet we see the Common Core as a great conservative victory. The standards are solid and traditional. They don’t give into moral relativism, blame-America-first or so many other liberal nostrums that have infected our public schools.

At the end of the day, the facts matter. We hope that North Carolina will be guided by them and stay the course with the Common Core. It’s really a victory for everyone.

Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli are, respectively, president and executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education-policy think tank. Finn served in the Reagan administration; Petrilli served in the George W. Bush administration. Both are affiliated with the Hoover Institution.

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