Ted Cruz opposes Common Core, according to his website. He thinks every child deserves a quality education and breezily applauds “school choice.” Rand Paul wants to abolish the Common Core, and wants more variety in education choices. Neither seems to make education a priority.
Note to Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and other conservative candidates: voters want to hear how you are going to fix our public schools. You’ve told us what’s wrong with Common Core, but you have failed to offer an alternative. This is vital because promising better schools might help attract Hispanic voters, and also because improved education is essential for our country’s growth and health. You cannot claim to be fiscally responsible while ignoring the failure of our schools to deliver capable graduates.
Today, a tragedy is unfolding. The country has become so convulsed over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that the education reform movement risks losing momentum. Conservatives are especially furious about Common Core. They see the proposed establishment of the fact-based education standards as tantamount to a federal takeover of our schools. Never mind that CCSS was developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.
Never mind that the feds are not allowed by law to create curriculum, and that the CCSS leaves that chore to local communities. The Obama White House unwittingly muddied the water by tying Race to the Top money to adoption of CCSS in a small way, fueling the “Washington-takeover” narrative, and the opposition took off.
We now have a remarkable coalition between the far right and the far left that may well torpedo the Common Core. Though nearly all states adopted the standards beginning in 2010, some, like Oklahoma and South Carolina, have more recently withdrawn from using the CCSS. More will likely follow.
The antipathy from the right is philosophical; they dislike Big Government and Big Business, and see both trying to influence local schools. In addition to the Obama administration, the Chamber of Commerce has backed the CCSS, responding to employers worried about a scarcity of educated workers.
The pushback from the left also reflects hostility towards the meddling of wealthy business tycoons like Bill Gates, whose foundation has been the principle funder of the standards More important, left-leaning critics of CC line up behind those predictably opposed to data-driven measurements of student achievement. In this column put teachers’ unions, who do not like evaluations, because not every teacher will pass muster. In a 2014 survey, only 46% of teachers supported CC, down from 76 percent the year before.
Critics on both sides of the political spectrum note little evidence that standards actually raise performance, a reasonable concern. Parents are caught up in the debate, hoping their kids will emerge with better skills and knowledge, but they’re unhappy with what many view as excessive testing that has shown students underachieving. Also, some of the teaching methods introduced by states incorporating CCSS are downright whacky.
The Left’s persistent remedy for our education shortcomings is to throw more money into our schools, even though we spend more than any nation on earth, and see little result.
Conservatives have not yet offered up a solution, save talk of school choice, which is like being in favor of a secure border. Both appeal, but the roadmap is invisible. Voters should demand more from conservatives. Those on the right celebrate self-sufficiency and the freedoms that allow individual success. But, the economic and social mobility that has been a hallmark of our country’s past achievements is at risk. We increasingly have economic ghettos that are in fact education ghettos. This must stop.
Conservatives also celebrate our country’s origins, and rightly so. This nation was born of a quest for freedom and individual rights; our history demonstrates a bumpy but persistent dedication to the ideals of our founders. Kids today cannot be expected to uphold so-called American virtues without a solid grounding in our history.
Which brings to mind a video currently making the rounds. It shows Texas Tech students unable to answer simple questions about their country’s history – like, who won the Civil War. Only one female student knows the correct answer; others not only fail the test, but also blank on who participated in our nation’s most deadly conflict, and when it took place. The students are also incapable of identifying our current Vice President (Joe Biden, for those at a momentary loss) and also the country from which we won our independence. Just to show these kids were not entirely clueless, the interviewer asks them what TV show Snooki appears on and the name of Brad Pitt’s wife; these things they know.
Common Core was not designed to attack the death of general knowledge – it sets only math and English language goals. This is not enough, though improving skills in those two disciplines is essential. Something has to change.
Conservatives should also be energized by political calculations. Some analysts suggest that the GOP will have to win more than 40 percent of the Latino vote to capture the White House – a far cry from Mitt Romney’s 27 percent share in 2012. Pew research shows that education was the top concern among Hispanic registered voters last year (49 percent saying it was “very important”) considerably outranking immigration (31 percent). As Reagan so famously said, “Hispanics are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet.”
The 2016 race for the White House is just getting started. Voters have a chance to influence platforms and outcomes. All should make education reform a priority. If the Common Core standards are not the answer, we need to find a better program. Fast.
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