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My view: Supporting Common Core is a conservative win for our state

by Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli

Published: Sunday, July 7 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Common Core State Standards for K-12 education, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, are touted by some education-watchers as a states-led effort to improve college and career readiness of high school graduates and raise students' slipping scores on international tests.

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For some time now, outside groups have been vigorously spreading misinformation about the Common Core state standards — which offer a clear and consistent description of what students should know and the skills they must acquire at each K–12 grade level to stay on course toward college or the workforce. The effort by critics has been relentless, and Utah has not been immune to the falsehoods. In fact, at the state GOP convention in May, Republicans passed a resolution calling for Utah to pull out of the common-standards effort.

That would be a grave mistake. Utahns should understand that the Common Core arose as a state initiative and, with continued support, the standards will gain traction in schools and yield gains for students as well as for the state.

We can think of six additional (conservative) arguments for supporting the Common Core:

1. Fiscal responsibility. The Common Core protects taxpayer dollars by setting world-class academic standards for student achievement — and taxpayers and families deserve real results for their money. Utah has already invested time and money to implement the new standards, and many districts have already spent scarce dollars training teachers for Common Core's increased rigor. Calling for a do-over at this point would waste time and money already expended.

2. Accountability. Common Core demands accountability, high standards and testing — not the low expectations and excuses that many politicians and the establishment have permitted. The Common Core standards are pegged at a high level, which will bring a healthy dose of reality to the education-reform conversation. No longer will state tests show that upward of four-fifths of young Utahns are "proficient" when the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows the number to be closer to one-third.

3. School choice. As strong supporters of parental choice, we are often asked how to reconcile our enthusiasm for the Common Core. Doesn't it force a "one-size-fits-all" approach onto schools? The short answer: No. Standards describe what students are expected to know and be able to do. Written correctly, they do not dictate any particular curriculum or pedagogy. Plus, the information that comes from standards-based testing gives parents a common yardstick with which to judge schools and make informed choices. In the end, Common Core is not a national curriculum — the standards were written by governors and local education officials, and they were adopted by each state independently.

4. Competitiveness. While the U.S. dithers, other countries are eating our lunch. If we don't want to cede the 21st century to our economic and political rivals — China especially — we need to ensure that many more young Americans emerge from high school truly ready for college and a career that allows them to compete in the global marketplace.

5. Innovation. Common Core standards are encouraging a huge amount of investment from states, philanthropic groups and private firms — which is producing Common Core–aligned textbooks, e-books, professional development, online learning and more. Online learning, especially, is going to open up a world of new choices for students and families to seek a high-quality, individualized education.

6. Traditional education values. The Common Core standards are worth supporting because they're educationally solid. They are rigorous, they are traditional — one might even say they are "conservative." They expect students to know their math facts, to read the nation's founding documents, and to evaluate evidence and come to independent judgments. In all of these ways, they are miles better than three-quarters of the state standards they replaced — standards that hardly deserve the name and that often pushed the left-wing drivel that Common Core critics say they abhor.

We understand that many conservatives are justifiably angry about the inappropriate role the Obama administration has played in promoting and taking credit for these standards, which in fact arose from state leadership. The standards were developed by the states, and implementation is unquestionably a state effort, not a federal one.

Yet we see the Common Core as a great conservative victory. The standards are solid and traditional. They don't give into moral relativism, blame-America-first, or so many other liberal nostrums that have infected our public schools.

At the end of the day, the facts matter. We hope that Utah will be guided by them and stay the course with the Common Core. It's really a victory for everyone.

Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli are, respectively, president and executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education-policy think tank. Finn served in the Reagan administration; Petrilli served in the George W. Bush administration. Both are affiliated with the Hoover Institution.

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