Common Core: Blame the process, not the standards

It’s time to reconsider the Common Core.

Instead of a federal takeover of the schools, let’s have the states jointly develop strong educational standards.

Instead of shutting teachers out of the process, let’s involve them from the get-go and win the support of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers.

Instead of micromanaging what educators teach and how they teach, let’s provide broad learning goals that can be achieved through many styles of teaching. Let’s base the goals on current research and best educational practices from throughout the world.

Instead of anti-American indoctrination, let’s encourage study of the nation’s founding documents, including the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

Agree? You’ve just endorsed what the Common Core is and rejected what it isn’t.

Talk radio and television hosts have been bashing and misrepresenting the Common Core State Standards for many months. Predictably, Americans – especially conservatives – aren’t clear on what they are. Teachers and some of their unions are souring on them as well. A newly published poll in the journal Education Next shows the depth of the misunderstanding.

The pollsters asked almost identical questions to two randomly selected groups of 2,500 citizens. People in both groups were asked whether they supported “standards for reading and math that are the same across the states,” which would be used “to hold public schools accountable for their performance.”

When the standards were identified as “the Common Core,” 53 percent supported the idea. When “the Common Core” was dropped, support shot up to 68 percent. Democrats and Republicans showed equal enthusiasm.

In the immortal words of “Cool Hand Luke,” what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.

Part of the problem is demagoguery. But the Common Core is also suffering guilt by association.

The standards broadly identify skills and facts kids should be covering in a given age bracket. Most sixth-graders, for example, should be able to divide fractions by fractions; most 10th-graders should be able to handle texts comparable to George Washington’s “Farewell Address” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”?

There shouldn’t be wild disparities from state to state. When an Army family transfers from North Carolina to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the children should not find themselves trailing their new classmates.

But while the Common Core is a good set of goals, they’re only goals. To work, they must be translated into curricula, textbooks, tests, professional training and phase-in schedules. This has been done well in some states, badly in others. Many teachers say their states are moving too fast and offering too little training to get it right. A lot of the complaints about the Common Core are really complaints about its implementation.

Supporters of the Common Core will have to help the public separate the idea of national goals from the process of getting those goals to the classroom.

Maybe the words “Common Core” are hopelessly tainted; maybe the standards need a better label. Whatever the name, students ought to be getting a strong education – headed directly toward a useful degree – regardless of where they live.