It is rare, perhaps even extraordinary, to find a political question that can unite Democrats and Republicans. Then again, Common Core educational standards have become, indeed, an extraordinary hot-button topic.
Last year, the Central Committee of Washington’s state Republican Party passed a resolution opposing Common Core. Last week, state Democrats followed suit. The parties, mind you, oppose the Common Core standards for somewhat different reasons. Republicans typically argue that Common Core reflects an untoward intrusion of the federal government into public education; the resolution passed last week by Democrats criticized private and corporate interests that they say pushed Common Core standards without having evidence that such standards will improve student learning. Arguments from both sides have loudly complained about the standardized testing that is necessary to measure whether students are meeting the mandated standards.
Voila! Republicans and Democrats in the state have found common ground over Common Core proposals that these days seem to be about as welcome as the measles.
Developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Common Core is designed to establish math and English learning goals for each grade level. Proponents have said the standards will push schools and students to improve educational standards and will provide consistent standards throughout the country. After state Democrats passed their anti-Common Core resolution, Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said, “I do not believe that most people understand what this is about. It’s become a political propaganda issue. This wasn’t just done overnight; this was done over a long period of time with a lot of input from teachers and administrators, and top education researchers.”
In Washington, along with most states, Common Core standards were adopted in 2010. In Washington, along with most states, those standards have been a political football ever since. Several states have rescinded their adoption of the standards, although no such movement has gained a foothold here. David Spring, a Democratic precinct committee officer from North Bend, told The Seattle Times: “The end goal of what we want is the same (as Republicans). We all want local control, by a locally controlled school board.”
Yes, there are plenty of complaints to go around about Common Core standards. But the critics, while focusing ad nauseam on the process, rarely pay heed to the desired results. The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment ranked U.S. teens 36th in the world in proficiency at math, reading and science. According to that study, the math scores of students in Shanghai were “the equivalent of over two years of formal schooling ahead of those observed in Massachusetts, itself a strong-performing U.S. state.” And lest we think that one particular assessment is the defining word on education, another 2012 study by education firm Pearson ranked U.S. schools as the 17th best in the world.
Clearly, American education needs to improve. We can debate the minutiae about the effectiveness of Common Core standards and the overlords who developed them and the evils of standardized testing, but higher standards and more demands on our students are a necessary part of any improvement. Children — and adults, for that matter — live up to expectations. Raising expectations for our educational system would truly be something extraordinary.