The Common Core State Standards is furthering a rift within the already embattled conservative party. For pro-business groups—who tend to lean toward de-regulation and other conservative, laissez-faire measures—the standards are essential to their interests and the long-term economic viability of their states. They believe high school students are not college- or career-ready, and that they need improve their reading, writing, STEM, and other business skills to compete in the 21st century. A national standard like the Common Core would begin to address this problem. For political and fiscal conservatives, on the other hand, the Common Core represents federal overreach into state matters. They also believe its quality is lacking, and that developers of these standards have not thought this through.
Both sides are jockeying for position. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is providing state chambers of commerce with tools to address opposition in their state, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With their long-standing relationships, networks, and well-established resources, state chambers have the influence to sway state government leaders, state legislators, and state school chiefs to address what they consider a vital economic matter. Pro-business groups also have momentum, since 46 states (along with the District of Columbia) have adopted the Common Core. On the other end, Republican leaders are voicing some opposition. Many feel the pressure to roll back the Common Core or face repercussions from Tea Party activists. As such, the conservative base is facing a sensitive dilemma that could affect their party’s standing in the next election.
Right now, it appears the pro-business community’s arguments make more sense. The issue is consistency. Students who performs well in, say Mississippi, ought to do the same in Massachusetts—which has not been the case under No Child Left Behind. Their scores ought to reliably indicate the performance of U.S. students when compared with those in other countries. This foundation—or baseline—is critical to informing policy and instruction. Without it, we cannot know if policies and instruction are effective or if students are improving. The fact that the new Common Core is imperfect is not a reason to scrap it.
The bigger problem appears to be the politics. Despite the state-led, bipartisan collaboration among teachers, researchers, and other educators, the Common Core has become a toxic brand in the eyes of many Republicans. They associate it with the Obama’s administration and feel that any attempts to centralize control is un-American. “If we removed the ‘common core’ branding, it would defuse some of the issues,” according to a GOP candidate for state superintendent in Georgia. This “soft” protest suggests that political conservatives are not necessarily opposed to the Common Core principles, and that they are trying to move past the divisive elements undermining their recent support.
The Educated Society strives to evaluate issues based on a holistic perspective. As an educator who faces ongoing pressures from students, colleagues, administrators, and other interests, I continually ask myself: What is in the best interest of the students? The answer becomes obvious. In this case, we ought to streamline standards and allow states to pursue them in ways they feel is most appropriate. Students will know where they stand regardless of location. States keep their autonomy while the United States remains, well, united. Despite my mixed feelings about the Common Core, the principle behind it—that all children have clear, consistent learning expectations (no matter what part of the country)—is sound. We should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.