NC leaders should fight to keep Common Core

April 27, 2014 

In answer to the question, “What’s next?” North Carolina Republican legislators have a doozy. Having instituted voter suppression laws, ended teacher job protections, killed off many environmental safeguards and rendered the Department of Health and Human Services a dysfunctional mess, it’s on to other things.

First on the list for some, apparently, are the Common Core State Standards for public education, something to which 44 states and the District of Columbia have subscribed. Common core is a set of standards that set a consistent group of measures of student progress in math and English language arts from kindergarten through high school.

The standards were the creation of a bipartisan group led by the National Governors Association. And the idea was smart: to ensure that students nationwide were learning the fundamentals in a rigorous fashion and that states would be able to measure their students against those from all around the country. The standards, for which many teachers have trained, are supposed to encourage students to do more critical thinking and to learn how to solve problems.

But now in North Carolina, Republican legislators have common core in their sights. The peculiar logic of their opposition is that the state should control standards and not be part of a national effort. They want to end common core in North Carolina and have the state set its own standards.

That’s bad enough, after all the work that’s been done on common core. Far worse is that Republicans want to replace the standards through the State Board of Education and a group of political appointees. That’s a formula for interference in education by politicians with ideological causes they’d like to see taught to students. And presto: Since Republicans are in charge, it’s a safe bet those causes would include the anti-government philosophies of the tea party division of the Republican Party, which is at the heart of opposition to common core.

And the tea party is driven mainly by one obsession, its hatred of President Obama. Republicans in the legislature won’t admit it, but what’s really going on here is that they’re following the tea party and its advocates on right-wing radio out the window in the belief that common core is an Obama-led conspiracy to indoctrinate school kids in liberal ways.

In fact, common core has been supported by prominent current and former Republican governors including Chris Christie of New Jersey and Jeb Bush of Florida. Its creation was bipartisan and wholly the product of a sincere desire to make America’s students better and more competitive in the world.

The standards also have the support of the very conservative business lobby, the North Carolina Chamber. Pat McCrory has even been a supporter, though it will be interesting to see whether the legislative leaders of his Republican Party put him under rein. They have in the past treated the governor without much respect and with virtually no interest in getting his input into policymaking.

Ending common core and turning to a political panel to advise the State Board of Education on testing will make the state a laughingstock that appears to be run by people who are champions of ignorance and fearful of any ideas that come from outside North Carolina’s borders.

Common core has broad-based support. Business leaders, former Gov. Jim Hunt, the greatest education governor ever, and, yes, even some mainstream Republicans have backed strong and clear measurements for educational progress. These different groups recognize that common core isn’t about ideology or politics.

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