Today’s NPR interview/podcast by Claudio Sanchez (click here to read/listen) with Mike Neal of the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Jenni White of Restore Oklahoma Public Education, and the comments posted online about it, highlight an aspect of the Common Core controversy that is being overlooked in the media. Mr. Neal uses the term ‘fringe groups” to describe the movement in Oklahoma, of which Jenni is one, but only one, of the leaders. Neal claims that groups like ROPE, perhaps even ROPE itself, have threatened Republican legislators with election-time retribution. I’m sure Mrs. White can only wish she had that much power!
Many of those who are active in the movement to “Stop Common Core” are indeed believers in traditional, classical education, as is Mrs. White. But to attempt to write the movement off as a fringe group of conservative, religious fanatics overlooks reality. What has been amazing about this movement is that it runs the gamut of the political as well as the philosophical and religious continuum.
Last month’s first annual conference of the Network for Public Education was attended by teachers and educational leaders from all points on the continuum. Left and right, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, progressive and traditionalist, all took an active part. The focus of the conference was decidedly anti-Common Core and anti-testing. Even the most ardent Common Core supporters agree that testing is the sine-qua-non of the Common Core Initiative, and it is in fact the testing requirements that result in Common Core becoming a curriculum that teachers must teach, despite protestations to the contrary. What is tested is what is taught. Call that a scheme or not; it is a clear reality. I’ve been an educator long enough to know that.
No one has been able to present a convincing argument, including Mr. Neal, as to how the Common Core Standards are better than the PASS Oklahoma abandoned in 2010. Even the Fordham Institute, a patently pro-Common Core think-tank, reviewed PASS and found them at least as good as Common Core. Mr. Neal makes the statement that at that time “no one had a problem with [the Common Core Standards].” What Mr. Neal neglects to point out is that no one knew what was in the standards when they were approved by the legislature; certainly no teachers, administrators, or teacher educators in universities even knew what was in them. We were caught totally by surprise. It is only as we have been able to study the 500-page standards in some detail over the last two to three years that we have been able to see how inappropriate they are, especially at the early childhood levels. Sorry, Mr. Neal, that argument simply won’t hold water.
Neal says dumping Common Core would be an expensive mistake because so many Oklahoma high school graduates require remediation to move into post-secondary education or be hired for jobs. He is absolutely correct that an embarrassing amount of money has been spent on the implementation of Common Core and the related tests, with not a lot to show for it. My dad used to tell me it wasn’t wise to throw good money after bad. If the Common Core Standards are not what we need, how is spending even more money—and no one yet knows how much—going to make weak standards any better? The only thing that could justify that is if Oklahoma had the authority to revise the standards, but it doesn’t because the CC Standards themselves are copyrighted and not subject to Oklahoma “tampering.” If attempts are made by Oklahoma authorities to copy and paste parts of the Standards into “its own” standards, that would clearly be against the law.
Sanchez concludes his report by saying that business leaders are concerned that repealing Common Core would take Oklahoma “back to square one, with no guarantees that Oklahoma will end up with standards as good as Common Core.” Since we know that our old standards are at least as good as Common Core, how is that a bad thing? If Common Core is no better than PASS, how will it lead to the more “college-and-career-ready” students Neal and his fellow business leaders crave?
I do think Jenni White is right about this: “…the Chamber of Commerce…isn’t for parents. They’re for businesses.”