Local control is essential in the pursuit of high-quality public education. Locally elected school board members and locally hired administrators and teachers know best the needs of school districts, some diverse, some more uniform.By the same token, public education is enshrined in our state constitution as the state’s “paramount duty,” so there is an accountability that must be met at the state level. And with our economic realities becoming more global by the day, all states should pursue education standards in concert.
Balancing local, state and global priorities is no easy task, but Washington has joined more than 40 other states in taking a good step in that direction. Common Core State Standards is a national program that is being phased in by school districts for math and English language arts learning, with full statewide implementation in Washington expected by the 2014-2015 school year.
A recent story in The News Tribune of Tacoma explained there is “no set Common Core curriculum; it’s up to teachers to decide how to teach the rigorous standards.” But the math and language standards themselves are basically nonnegotiable. As described at the state website http://k12.wa.us/corestandards, those standards mean emphasizing understanding over memorization; focusing on topics that are needed beyond high school, college or the trades; quicker testing results that make assessments more efficient. No rational person can argue with those.
In addition to the educational aspects of this national program, three noteworthy economic impacts come to mind. As we pointed out in an editorial in 2010, consistent national standards can yield financial benefits in at least three ways:
• The cost of remedial education programs is reduced at community colleges and universities. That means more efficient higher education, which taxpayers would welcome.
• A better-prepared workforce heightens global competitiveness. That means a more robust U.S. economy.
• And textbooks could be published with more standard lessons. That means lower book costs through greater sales volume.
The transition to Common Core standards in math and language arts is not without its skeptics. Some teachers are wary of the support Common Core has from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The News Tribune quoted Noam Gundle, a teacher at Ballard High School in Seattle: “We have gotten burned so many times in the past with the flavor-of-the-month of the Gates Foundation, (and) the new test that they think is going to solve all the problems in education. But the reality is, testing is not teaching. Teaching is teaching.”State Superintendent Randy Dorn disagrees, noting that Common Core standards have been supported by “Republican and Democratic governors. It was nonpartisan educators getting together and saying, ‘What’s the best thing for our students of our own states?’ And then we agreed to do it.” There’s ample reason to believe local control can be balanced with national standards. Common Core arrives in Washington after extensive research and, if thoroughly monitored, is certainly worth the effort.