Public schools

Common Core Supporter Engages Imaginary Criticisms; Next Step: Real Opponents


Common Core
Common Core

"Republican strategist" Rich Galen takes to the pages of Politico to make perhaps the weakest argument for Common Core education standards yet put into words. Targeting his fellow conservatives, he warns them against shoehorning students into vocational tracks when the future is so bright for kids with the "college-prep set of skills" offered by Common Core that they gotta wear tinted contact lenses. But while there may be vocational track advocates among Common Core critics, that's hardly the heart of the opposition. And whether or not Common Core actually provides kids with improved education is at the…well…core of the debate over the standards.

Under the headline, "Why the Right Should Love the Common Core," Galen scribbles:

Common Core is the shorthand for a requirement that, beginning as early as possible in elementary school and continuing throughout high school, students be exposed to, and become comfortable with, a college-prep set of skills. These skills—especially in mathematics and English—will provide a foundation for students to go in any career direction.

This is so transparently a good thing that it's hard to figure out why anyone would be opposed. That's especially true for conservatives, who have long believed our education system is underperforming; that student progress needs to be measured; and that teachers and school superintendents should be accountable for better outcomes in the classroom.

Conservatives are instinctively pro-standard. And yet the latest round of opposition to Common Core comes primarily from the right. What gives?…

Not every high-school student needs to go to a traditional four-year college. But, those who claim we are wasting the time of students who are likely to get on a vocational instead of an academic track are settling for low expectations at a time when we should be setting high expectations.

This isn't just a leap of logic—it's the triple lindy of intellectual gymnastics.

First of all, Common Core is a set of education standards intended to "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them," according to the official mission statement. The criticisms of Common Core (because there are several) aren't over whether it's a good idea to give kids a decent education; they're over Common Core's ability to meet that goal as a uniform standard imposed across the country on kids of varying skills, interests, and developmental levels.

Some critics advocate the idea that some education approaches are right for certain kids, but not for others. They support the goal of well-educated kids, but don't believe that cookie-cutter standards are the right approach. At Montessori Madman, Aidan McAuley asks:

The first question I have is whether a government should create or even suggest what types of content curriculum should include. When a government determines curriculum it is inherently placing more value on some types of content and less on other types. There are two problems with this: 1) It assumes government somehow knows which content will provide the most return to its economic engine in the future (this is impossible to know) and 2) it creates an impersonal culture of education derived from logistics and efficiencies built on the false premise that all children learn in the same way and should know the same things by a certain age. A child is not a product to be manufactured by a government and should not be commoditized as such.

Other critics look at the high, but also rigid, standards set by Common Core, and worry that it treats children as if they're an army of clones, all ready to learn the same lessons at the same rate. My wife, a pediatrician, looked at the math standards our third grader is expected to meet, and remarked, "I'm not sure third-graders are developmentally ready for this. Their brains may not be able to handle it yet."

That's been a common concern. A Washington Post article on just this issue quoted Stephanie Feeney, professor emerita of education at the University of Hawaii, noting, "The people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education."

Admittedly, the critics quoted above aren't necessarily conservative, but the Pioneer Institute is. That organization's concerns, outlined in A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education, prefaced by U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), focus on the loss of local control and narrowed diversity of educational approaches inherent in the standards:

the CommonCore State Standards will extensively define what students should know and be able to do in each grade. They are not a curriculum—local curricula will still be defined at the school and district levels—but they do dictate the first component any curriculum content. The standards also drive how local curricula are sequenced and, by virtue of these first two things, will constrain some of the materials teachers use.

These aren't the only critiques of Common Core, but they're much more typical than complaints that the standards won't let schools convert students into a generation of Brave New World-style Epsilons—grunt workers victimized by low expectations.

It's nice that Common Core supporters are now engaging with their critics rather than dismissing them, as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did with his snark about "white suburban moms." Soon, they may start engaging with real opponents rather than ones from their imagination.

NEXT: FBI Charges Calif. State Senator With Bribery

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  1. shoehorning students into vocational tracks when the future is so bright for kids with the “college-prep set of skills”

    You could offer BOTH tracks and not shoehorn anyone into anything. That would require the student making up his own mind about what he wants to do but the eduction-industrial complex wants that to be up to administrators.

    1. Exactly, the stupidity of common core and the current thought process in the Dept. of Education is mind blowing.

      I went to high school 9 years ago, we had wonderful programs for kids not going to college. Carpentry, welding, metal working, automotive, agriculture… all in a public school! A couple years after I graduated they built a new school with Federal money, that had NONE of those things. In a blue collar neighborhood, where most kids don’t go to college, that’s monumentally stupid.

      This same bullshit thought process just continues with CC. And the fact is the the future IS NOT BRIGHTER for kids with $40000 in debt and no job because they went to fucking business school and now work at BW3’s. Not everyone goes to college… and not everyone should!

  2. The real reason the Right should love the Common Core is that its genesis was in William Bennett’s standards and accountability movement. When the Republicans dropped NCLB to chase after Brown people in the aftermath of 9/11, the Democrats took standards and accountability reform and ran with it. For someone who has followed Ed. reform for most of his professional life, it’s absolutely bizarre to see the narrative flipped so quickly in just one decade.

  3. Look, you guys just don’t understand manufacturing, okay? If you have a standardized process, you can move more units faster with lower overhead. How is that not the best way to do education? Do you hate the children?

  4. “I’m not sure third-graders are developmentally ready for this. Their brains may not be able to handle it yet.”

    But thanks to grade inflation the level of the standard doesn’t matter anyway. Everybody passes regardless of performance, so as long as everyone is passing without meeting a low standard, there is no reason not to raise the standard.

    It isn’t about child development, it’s about satisfying the egos of pedagogues. Been that way for 100 years.

  5. OT: Idiot college kids get their jollies off by being transgressive.

    But here’s what puzzles me:

    In 1962, James Meredith became the first black student admitted to Ole Miss, and it took a Supreme Court ruling and federal police presence to ensure his admittance. The deeply religious Meredith has said that he disagrees with the statue on Second Amendment grounds and believes that it should be removed from campus.

    “It’s a false idol, and it’s an insult not only to God, it’s an insult to me,” he reportedly said in an interview with The New York Times about his commemorative statue.”

    Why the hell would you build and maintain a statue to commemorate someone who believes that statue is an offense to him and what he believes?*

    *Rhetorical question: We all know the answer.

    1. Interesting that that paragraph made it through (presumably) multiple editors without anyone catching the difference between the Second Amendment and the Second Commandment.

      1. The link now takes you to an apparently corrected version which says, “he disapproves of it on biblical grounds” (emphasis mine), so apparently someone has caught it.

        Just to show you what kind of heathen I am I had no idea what they were talking about.

    2. I assume he actually said “Second Commandment” grounds?

      1. “Look, I don’t know what these so-called commandments are. All I know is he’s a right-wing nut and right-wing nuts are always going on about the Second Amendment. So I made the best guess I could about what he meant and then went and hit the bars.”


    3. What in the hell do they plan to charge these guys with? Littering? Because as far as I can tell, that’s all they could charge them with. There was no damage whatsoever to the statue, just a couple of objects left behind.

  6. My wife, a pediatrician, looked at the math standards our third grader is expected to meet, and remarked, “I’m not sure third-graders are developmentally ready for this. Their brains may not be able to handle it yet.”

    2-Chili, you need to hand your wife a copy of something like Singapore Math, stat. If anything, Common Core math standards lowball the kids. Something of which Marc Tucker, Common Core architect, admits in his book Surpassing Shanghai

  7. Common Core is the shorthand for a requirement that … students be exposed to, and become comfortable with, a college-prep set of skills.

    Emphasis added. As opposed to “learn”?

    1. Nice catch.

  8. The only things I’ve seen of Common Core are block drawings of groups of ten and president-fellating word problems. Am I missing something? Why would anyone defend this?

  9. CC insists that everyone can learn algebra, in the teeth of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.


  10. I saw pro-CC article in TIME full of head-patting reassurances. “Don’t you care about the education crisis in this country? Look, even Kentucky, a conservative state, has common core! So just adopt it already!”

  11. So who in their right moind would have saw that coming.

  12. If you cut through all the distracting, vague rhetoric in this article, you will see that it is just like 90% of the criticisms of Common Core: it is based on parents who are upset because their kids are whining about being expected to learn things like how to solve algebra problems or write a complete sentence.

    The clue is here:

    “My wife, a pediatrician, looked at the math standards our third grader is expected to meet, and remarked, ‘I’m not sure third-graders are developmentally ready for this. Their brains may not be able to handle it yet.'”

    Being able to “handle it” happens by trying to do it until you get it right, not waiting around for knowledge and skills to magically sprout through becoming “developmentally ready”. Of course it’s painful when your kid is upset, but sometimes you have to teach this hard lesson: real development takes work, even at the age of eight or nine. Coddling them is just going to promote laziness and obsession about one’s self-esteem.

    As at least one person above pointed out, these Common Core standards are pretty weak when you compare them to what is expected in plenty of other countries. Are American kids just a bunch of morons compared to the ones in Singapore?

    It looks like Galen basically got it right if you can get past all the obfuscation and sentimentality.

  13. The problem with Common Core math isn’t that it’s a standard.

    It’s not that it’s a difficult standard.

    It’s that it’s an asinine, non-outcomes-based standard.

    I’ve seen the Common Core tests. And they don’t ask questions like, “What is 3 + 3?” What they do instead is show random pictorial arrangements, no doubt based on the Common Core school room materials, and then ask, “Which of these would you use to solve the question What is 3 + 3?”

    The correct answer, for anyone who isn’t retarded, is “None of them, because I’d just fucking solve 3 + 3.”

    So if you have a student who actually knows math, but did not learn it the way Common Core wants to demand that you learn it, they can’t pass the Common Core tests. The only way to pass the Common Core tests is to sit through public school classes demonstrating the Common Core methods, because they’re so incredibly idiosyncratic and pictographic.

    Public school teachers hate – hate – the fact that certain types of students score well on standardized tests: private school kids, homeschool kids, and kids who just understand the material without having to sit through their classes like drones. So they are attempting to devise a set of standardized tests where the only way to perform well is to be a public school drone. That’s what this is about.

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