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Wall Street Journal

 

Conservatives and the Common Core

May 14, 2013

By Sol Stern, Joe Klein

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The curriculum standards adopted by 45 states require students to read America’s Founding texts.

Although the two of us have disagreed about several school-reform issues, we strongly believe that the Common Core State Standards, voluntarily adopted by 45 states, is one of the most promising education initiatives of the past half century. If implemented properly, they can better prepare students for college-level work and to gain the civic knowledge that is essential for democracy to prosper.

All Americans, including conservatives, should applaud these standards, which celebrate the country’s foundational documents and enable students to share the heritage of Americans.

Unsurprisingly, the adoption of common educational standards is opposed by some hard-liners on the educational left. The Common Core’s call for coherent, content-based math and literacy standards threatens to undo the watered-down version of progressive education thinking that has dominated the public schools over the past half-century. Indeed, progressive education philosophy opposes any set curriculum for the schools. Progressives tend to favor pedagogical approaches in the classroom such as "child-centered" instruction and "teaching for social justice," rather than rigorous academic content.

Much more puzzling has been the fervid opposition to the Common Core by some conservatives, including tea party activists, several free-market think tanks and, most recently, the Republican National Committee. The most frequently repeated complaint from the right is that states were pressured (or bribed) by the Obama administration to sign on to the Common Core through the billions of dollars handed out by the administration’s Race to The Top competition. (Common Core was one of the education reforms that helped states qualify for Race to the Top grants.) Conservative critics say this was an unlawful federal intrusion into a policy area reserved to the states by the Constitution.

These claims do not stand up to close scrutiny. The Common Core Standards were not written by the federal government, but by a committee selected by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The committee’s efforts were backed financially by several private foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This is constitutional federalism at its best. The five states that declined to adopt the standards were not punished or sanctioned by the federal government. Conservative Gov. Mitch Daniels in Indiana, for example, refused to apply for Race to the Top funds, but he supported the Common Core because he understood they were the right thing to do for school children.

Tea party activists are leading a campaign to convince legislators in Indiana and Alabama to drop out of the Common Core. That is their right, but it could not happen if the federal government was actually forcing the states to comply with the standards. All decision-making about standards remains with the states. What’s really disconcerting is the Republican National Committee’s attempt to undermine the decisions of Republican governors.

Conservative critics ignore how the Common Core Standards support teaching all students about the nation’s rich heritage of constitutional government, which is often overlooked in K-12 schools. For example, one of the Common Core’s reading standards for grades 9-10 calls for students to analyze and understand the arguments in "seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning." How many American public schools do that today?

By focusing students on documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers, the Common Core Standards can help all students understand the heart of the American heritage. The standards also require students to examine "eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature," including texts by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe and John Steinbeck.

The greatest potential for academic improvement comes from the section in the standards document that offers this guidance: "By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades."

For most states�which have lacked demanding standards for years�the Common Core represents a remarkable advance in rigor and academic content. Since the standards call for a coherent, grade-by-grade curriculum, those states that have signed on to the Common Core are now having a serious discussion about the specific subject matter that must be taught in the classroom. This is a discussion that’s been neglected for almost half a century.

Some conservatives want to continue trying to bring down the whole edifice of the Common Core, thereby returning public education to the curricular wasteland that has prevailed up to now. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to participate in the conversation about how to make the standards and the academic content taught in American classrooms even better?

Original Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323744604578477192115551914.html

 

 
 
 

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