Common Core: The Conservative Dilemma

Common Core State StandardsThe 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.

2 thoughts on “Common Core: The Conservative Dilemma

  1. On the surface this arguement makes sense. One of the reasons consertives are objecting to the Common Core is the content. Having to some degree a common topic for each grade level regardless of location will be very helpful for families that relocate to during the school year, or for that matter while they have children in the public system. My concern is who makes decisons about content. For example, what do students need to know about world history? If your school has a large number of students from Africa then those schools may want to include more first account information from this part of the world. Will the local school be able to make this type of content decision. Another concern is the testing associated with this approach. A test written from an east coast person may be very different than one from a midwest of western person. Then the concerns about non native English speakers, and those who are first generation American. If these groups score either above or below the standard, then what does that say about the school, curriculum, or the region.
    Lately, many schools and districts are now running from this idea. Why?

  2. Thanks for your comment Nancy. Despite the fact that there is a Common Core Standards, content should be left to the local level – to decide what works best for their population/demographic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *