Opposition to Common Core — the national curriculum standards championed by governors and the Obama administration — is heating up throughout the country as legislators and activists across the political spectrum pressure state legislatures to resist what they fear is a federal takeover of education.
The latest battleground state is Michigan, where the Republican-controlled legislature is threatening to slam the brakes on Common Core. State Superintendent Michael Flanagan testified before the House Subcommittee on Education Tuesday, asking lawmakers to resume implementation of Common Core.
“My hope is that they’re going to do the right thing and approve the funding for this,” he said in a statement to MLive.
In Michigan, Common Core has the support of Gov. Rick Snyder — one of several Republican governors to voice approval for the new education standards.
The idea behind Common Core — which was approved by most states over the last few years — is to get schools across the country working toward the same education goals. Students will be expected to achieve certain levels of reading and math proficiency at each grade level, and will take a national standardized test to measure their progress.
But opponents of the standards have criticized virtually every facet of them. Some say Common Core is untested, and would force certain states with better educational systems to move backward. The process by which they were approved was hasty and secretive, reduces local autonomy, and puts schools at the mercy of high-stakes testing, critics say.
Sandra Stotsky, a professor at the University of Arkansas, served on the committee to validate the standards when they were first developed. She refused to sign off on Common Core, and has since become a leading critic of the standards, which she said are little better than those already in place in the worst states in the country.
“The standards dumb American education down by about two grades worth,” she said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Stotsky expressed serious reservations about the rigor of the English language curriculum standards.
Other education experts have similar concerns about the mathematics standards, which do not require students to take algebra I until high school–and don’t require algebra II at all — and would leave them lagging behind students in China. (RELATED: California gives up on math)
The huge institutional cost of implementing Common Core is also a point of contention: Flanagan told the education subcommittee that he couldn’t even quantify how much money had already been spent retraining teachers and updating textbooks.
“We don’t know how much because it’s a local issue,” he said.
Common Core’s supporters — both in government and at private organizations such as the Gates Foundation, which has strongly backed the standards — were eager to hide the truth about the steep cost, Stotsky charged.
“No questions were asked about cost/benefit analysis,” said Stotsky. “They didn’t want legislatures, parents or local schools to know what was going on.”
Implementation of Common Core is a major financial coup for certain sectors of the education industry — particularly the test-taking industry. The College Board, which administers the college placement exam known as the SAT, has thrown its weight behind the standards.
The Obama administration is considering raising taxes on phone lines in order to generate funds for schools to install computerized testing software, according to the center-right Heartland Institute.
Activists on the left and right have criticized the role that that Gates Foundation and other private organizations played in approving the standards. And while teachers union leaders have generally expressed support for Common Core, they remain steadfastly opposed to one of its key provisions: the creation of a national standardized testing regime, which could be used to hold teachers accountable to their students’ scores.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has called for a moratorium on the testing component of Common Core, but supports enactment of the rest of the standards.
Common Core has conservative supporters as well. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a free-market think tank, has led the way.
Kathleen Porter-Magee, a research fellow at Fordham, pushed back against the notion that Common Core represents a federal takeover of education. States still have flexibility to create their own curricula and run their education systems as they see fit, she said.
“I do think that states are in the driver’s seat,” she said in an interview with The DCNF. “The standards allow for structural and curricular diversity.”
It’s a debate that will continue to unfold as a host of states — including Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan — hold serious debates over whether to repeal Common Core or proceed as planned.
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