ON-Lion Letter

“Even before the Common Core State Standards initiative was officially unveiled in June 2010,” begins the lead article by Frederick M. Hess in the Fall issue of National Affairs, “dozens of states had already pledged to adopt the standards.  By the end of 2010, 39 states and the District of Columbia had adopted the new education standards for reading and math with little fuss or controversy.  The initiative was cheered on by an impressive array of supporters:  President Obama, prominent Republicans like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, the heads of national teachers' unions, the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable.”

“Supporters billed the Common Core as a state-led, technical, apolitical exercise that would modernize and rationalize American education,” Hess continues.  “In fact, even as most Americans remained unaware that the Common Core existed, Arne Duncan, the Obama administration's secretary of education, declared that "the Common Core State Standards may prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education.”

“Yet in 2014, the picture looks very different,” he writes.  “Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have abandoned the Common Core, and legislation to do the same has been introduced across the country.  Influential Republican legislators have made repealing the Common Core a top priority in battleground states like North Carolina, Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin.  The Common Core has become a poisonous brand; one recent national poll found that including the phrase ‘Common Core’ reduced support for the idea of common reading and math standards by nearly one-fourth.

Hess is a resident scholar and director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Studies (AEI) in Washington, D.C.  The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation supports National Affairs and Hess’s work at AEI.

“Tea Party conservatives and militant, anti-testing union activists have forged an unlikely alliance to oppose the Common Core,” according to Hess.  “Conservative firebrands like Glenn Beck, Phyllis Schlafly, and Michelle Malkin have denounced it as ‘ObamaCore’ and as a leftist plot, while liberal education expert Diane Ravitch and Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis have called it anti-teacher.  The standards have even been ridiculed by media personalities like Jon Stewart, Louis C. K., and Stephen Colbert.  The critics are on to something, but their frenzied attacks on individual Common Core worksheets and their talk of cabals and conspiracies can obscure the more serious problems with the enterprise.

“The trouble with the Common Core is not that it was the handiwork of anti-American ideologues or anti-teacher dogmatists, but that it was the work of well-meaning, self-impressed technocrats who fudged difficult questions, used federal coercion to compel rapid national adoption, and assumed that things would work out,” he thinks.  “When critics of the Common Core hyperbolically accuse the program's architects of harboring a hidden agenda, they obscure this reality and leave moderate observers inclined to trust the relatively calm, rational, and polished voices of those defending the Common Core.  In reality, the disingenuous manner in which the enterprise has been pursued has ensured tepid buy-in.  This, coupled with the entirely foreseeable politicization of the issue, has created a mess for America's students.”

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