National Edition

The conservative battle over Common Core Standards

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

Petrilli considers Common Core “a higher and more rigorous standard” that will lead to improved college and career results that outweigh any negatives. The standards are educational goals. They are not a curriculum, he said.

An oft-repeated concern is that Common Core State Standards will force local schools and district to use a particular curriculum. Education Week writer Stu Silberman offers an analogy to help understand the distinction between educational standards and curriculum.

“Every field in the National Football League is the same length and width,” Silberman wrote last August. “No matter the location of the game, the field is exactly the same. So are the rules of the game. But the playbook for each team is significantly different. The field and rules are the standards while the vastly different playbooks make up the curriculum.”

“Federal involvement has been pretty minimal,” Petrilli said. “This was a state-led effort, and implementation is left up to states. There is no federal involvement left in the project.”

But such groups as the citizen-led Truth in American Education and the Eagle Forum insist that the real drive for Common Core didn’t come from states, but from private interests such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and progressive education reformers on the coasts.

Business leaders’ push

Business groups say Common Core is essential to raising educational performance. A long list of major corporations — including Aetna, Boeing, Dell, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, State Farm and Verizon Communications — signed a letter of support for the core.

The nation has “50 sets of inconsistent standards, even though the expectations of colleges and employers in math and English are nearly universal and are not bound by state lines,” read the letter. “The Common Core State Standards are an important opportunity to set consistent, focused, rigorous expectations for all students; a necessary foundation for making the changes needed to improve student achievement and ensure the United States’ educational and economic preeminence.”

Proficiency rates on the tests states developed to assess student achievement looked pretty good — until they were compared with data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress test given in each state. That data shows low proficiency across the board, but especially for low-income and minority students.

"States have set mediocre, dare I say ‘attainable’ standards so that passage rates on assessments are acceptable to adults, and states, districts and schools can escape accountability," wrote Cheryl Oldham, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's vice president for education and the workforce, in an opinion piece for Huffington Post.

Meanwhile, 50 percent of undergraduates and 70 percent of community college students must take at least one remedial course because they are underprepared, and the U.S. lags far behind other developed nations on international achievement tests, she wrote, referring to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Tests controlling values

But some conservatives aren’t convinced that a federally sanctioned push adequately reflects Americans’ core values.

“Common Core means federal control of school curriculum, i.e., control by Obama administration left-wing bureaucrats,” Schlafly wrote in a piece for townhall.com. “Federal control will replace all curriculum decisions by state and local school boards, state legislatures, parents and even Congress because Obama bypassed Congress by using $4 billion of stimulus money to promote Common Core.”

Tests will be the mechanism for controlling curriculum, Schlafly continued. “If [students] haven’t studied a curriculum based on Common Core, they won’t score well on the tests.”

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