Jayne: Truth about Common Core probably lies in middle

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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photoGreg Jayne, Opinion page editor

The reality of change is that it never is as wonderful nor as dreadful as advertised. Never, unless we're talking about when you finally decided to shave your balding head (wonderful), or when you got that ridiculous perm in high school (dreadful).

Of course, many people in this country make their living by decrying how unabashedly awful change will be, how our values are under attack and how such change is an affront to all for which we stand. But the truth is that neither Obamacare nor gay marriage nor "Happy Holidays" will presage the end of society; the truth is that we're strong enough to survive the tide of societal evolution.

So it is with much interest that I have been following the ongoing debate over Common Core, the education initiative that has been adopted by 45 states and will be fully implemented in Washington for the 2014-15 school year.

And a debate it is. A quick scan of the Internet — a little invention that qualifies as one of those unquestionably wonderful changes — unearths a commentary under the headline, "Common Core Doesn't Add Up to STEM Success," and another titled, "The Common Core is right for a STEM career."

Which kind of points out the crux of the matter. We don't know exactly the impact of Common Core, but we can be pretty certain it will be neither as good nor as bad as some have suggested.

"It's designed to have a common set of standards, not curriculum," said Dr. Gene Sharratt, executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council.

Kathy Gillespie, board member for Vancouver Public Schools, said last year that she is "excited about Common Core. I think that a student in our schools should have the same standards as somebody in Chicago." As Gillespie pointed out, those students someday will have to compete with each other for college admissions or for jobs.

Widespread criticism

That hasn't stopped the criticism. Nor should it. All input and critiques should be welcome and duly noted; it's how we generate improvement. But some of the complaints that I have heard about Common Core fail to pass the smell test.

One is that Common Core represents an unnecessary intrusion by the federal government into local schools. Except the standards were developed by a bipartisan group of state governors and education leaders, not the Obama administration.

Another is that the standards are too rigorous, and that early testing in states that have implemented the program show higher numbers of students failing to live up to expectations. Except that finally telling Little Johnny that he has to do better might be a good idea.

As a result of all this, many parents have opted to home-school their kids for some or all subjects in response to the Common Core standards, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan received criticism as he offensively dismissed "white suburban moms" for opposing higher academic standards.

Then there is the predictable politicization of the issue. Glyn Wright, executive director of the Eagle Forum, said in November: "Many parents will be shocked to find that some 'Common Core-approved' curriculum is full of inappropriate left-wing notions, disinformation, and fails to teach the truth of American exceptionalism and opportunity." I'm sure he found some way to blame Obama for that, ignoring the fact that the curriculum remains a local decision.

On the other hand, it's unlikely that Common Core will be the panacea some have suggested. Many efforts at educational reform have come and gone over the years, with most of them failing to address the fact that parental involvement and emphasis on education are the biggest determinants in academic success.

So, with much left to be learned about what the program will mean for local students, I'm guessing the truth of Common Core will lie in the middle. You know, like somewhere between shaving your head and getting a perm.