National Edition

The conservative battle over Common Core Standards

Published: Thursday, Jan. 2 2014 4:00 a.m. MST

Newly named Utah Teacher of the Year, Foxboro Elementary's Allison P. Riddle talks with students Ethan West and Isabel Moriconi during class Monday, Oct. 7, 2013.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This is the second in a four-article series exploring how teachers are incorporating Common Core State Standards. Read the first article here.

The controversy over Common Core State Standards for K-12 education adopted by 45 U.S. states and the District of Columbia divides both major political parties as well as faith communities and educators. Perhaps the fiercest battle over Common Core, though, is the tug-of-war between American conservatives, mostly Republican.

Conservative advocates for Common Core include former governors Jeb Bush, R-Fla., and Chris Christie, R-N.J., and many business leaders. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the standards, as does Business Roundtable, a conservative group of CEOs whose companies make up more than a third of the total value of the U.S. stock market. The business leaders say Common Core will increase educational rigor, producing workers who can keep U.S. companies competitive in the global marketplace.

Within the conservative community, opponents of the Common Core cluster mainly at the right end of the political spectrum, among tea party supporters. Voices of opposition include U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Tex., pundit Glenn Beck, and Eagle Forum founder and president Phyllis Schlafly. Their chief criticisms cast Common Core as a federal takeover of U.S. classrooms that could reshape the cultural values of the nation’s children.

The federal role

“First of all, it’s a national standard, which I strongly oppose,” said Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society. “We shouldn’t have a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Next, all curriculums are subject to ideological manipulation, and from what I’ve seen of the proposed core, there is a rigorous left lean in what they are proposing.”

Carlson favors a “radical decentralization” of school systems, allowing each school to be controlled by its neighborhood. He favors homeschooling as the best answer to education, with neighborhood schools serving as a resource.

“Every school should be open to all students, but compel none,” he said. “Families who primarily educate children at home would be welcome to send students for certain classes, like sports teams and choir. But they would not be compelled to follow the whole curriculum.”

Michael Petrilli travels the nation speaking about Common Core and listening to concerns in his role as executive vice-president of Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education think tank.

“About 90 percent of the concerns I hear are about the federal role in incentivizing states to adopt the standards, especially since Barack Obama won the last election,” Petrilli said. “A lot of tea party people don’t trust him on other issues, and that has bled over to Common Core. We’d be seeing a different argument if Romney had won.”

Petrilli said incentives in the federal Race to the Top program for states to adopt Common Core led to mistaken ideas about genesis of the standards that are hard to shake. Race to the Top was a competitive federal grant to spur innovation in K-12 education that was included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“This started out as a state-led effort by governors and school superintendents, with support from private citizens like [Microsoft founder] Bill Gates,” said Petrilli. “It had momentum long before Obama became president. For me, as a conservative, I don’t like the fact the Common Core was put into Race to the Top. I would prefer zero federal involvement.”

Nonetheless, his Fordham Institute is a staunch supporter of Common Core. The group did an exhaustive study of educational standards developed by each state before the launch of Common Core and found most to be “full of jargon, written by committee and completely unteachable.”

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