Point of View

Common Core: ‘Local control’ argument a guise to defend mediocrity

June 13, 2013 

North Carolina needs a world-class education system. Implementing a new set of nationwide standards called the Common Core would help to give us one.

But now that all teachers across the state have been moving forward in implementing these standards, some North Carolina lawmakers and activists want to take public schools backward.

The Common Core has come under fire for all sorts of frivolous reasons. In our state, proponents of cursive handwriting have recently spoken against implementation because the new standards don’t mention cursive or script handwriting. Are they serious?

There is nothing in the Common Core standards that would prevent schools from teaching cursive handwriting. The Common Core isn’t a new curriculum or some kind of Washington takeover of the classroom. It’s simply an ambitious set of standards describing what children should know at each grade level.

It also describes the skills that they should develop along the way. The core is particularly focused on English language arts and math.

And what is our alternative to teaching the Common Core? Do we want to fall behind the 44 other states that have adopted Common Core – indeed, the rest of the developed world – because those standards don’t contain a sentence about handwriting? The very mobile companies that offer great jobs these days are looking for workers educated in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), not calligraphy.

It’s not just about cursive. Another Common Core conspiracy has to do with the fact that the Common Core makes it easier for the state and federal government to collect data on student performance. Critics portray this oversight as “data-mining.” There are many state and federal laws that protect student data. These laws have been in place for a long time, and the Common Core will not change how local and state officials manage and protect student data.

If lawmakers believe we should not collect information about student performance, would they instead prefer an education program with no accountability? Does anyone think the government should spend money and then not track how effectively it is being used?

The Common Core was developed with the intent of preparing students for higher learning. The critics aren’t offering a better program of education. Instead they want improvised and ad-hoc programs. They are defending mediocrity under the mask of “local control.”

Our state is in a global competition for jobs. Tech companies like Facebook and Dropbox have opened up offices in Ireland over the past three years, citing the talent of potential workers. International accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers encourages its clients to invest in Ireland, and education is one of the top reasons.

Once companies like these put down roots, they spend massive amounts on real estate and local retail, lifting the whole economy. Well-educated, English-speaking workers can be found in almost any region of the globe now: Canada, South Africa, India or New Zealand. But there are lots of European and Asian companies that would love to expand to America. Common Core gives them one more reason to come to North Carolina.

We know that we can compete with anyone. Our land is beautiful and our people friendly. Compared with the rest of the world, our government is stable, and our business environment encourages creativity and innovation. Common Core standards prepare our students for a tough but prosperous future. The time to implement them is now.

William C. Harrison served as chairman of the N.C. State Board of Education from 2009 through 2013. Before his appointment, he spent 18 years as a superintendent in North Carolina.

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