Common Core a common enemy for some conservatives, liberals

Robby Soave | Reporter

The implementation of the Obama administration’s national education standards are being met with increased opposition from both conservative and liberal activists — albeit it for very different reasons.

In the past three years, 45 states adopted “Common Core,” a set of federal education curriculum guidelines developed by the National Governors Association and promoted by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. But now the guidelines are receiving stricter scrutiny, and mounting opposition from conservative groups — as well as teachers unions — has forced administrators and politicians to halt implementation.

Common Core skeptics have won several battles recently. In April, the Republican National Committee approved a resolution condemning the standards and urging states to withdraw. Last week, lawmakers in Michigan hit the pause button on implementation of the standards. Indiana followed suit just a few days ago.

Emmett McGroarty, a spokesperson for the American Principles Project, called Common Core a massive federal overreach at odds with the spirit of the Constitution — and one that went largely unnoticed for years.

“Our education system has gone through a radical transformation without the people or their elected representatives knowing this,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “[The states] had to commit to the standards before they were drafted.”

Conservatives’ main concern is that Common Core will gradually erode states’ rights, stifle competition between school systems, and act as a backdoor for the Obama administration to get a left-leaning political agenda into the classroom.

“The Common Core standards’ suggested reading list directs students to read government manuals and executive orders,” wrote Lindsey Burke, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, in a blog post.

Criticisms have also been made of the standards themselves, which are in some cases less rigorous than state standards. In adopting Common Core, the state of California stripped away its requirement that students take Algebra I before high school. And since proficiency in math is a good indicator of college success, many education groups objected to the change.

But opposition to Common Core is far from universal among conservatives. Kathleen Porter-Magee, a policy fellow at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, has repeatedly defended the standards as a positive change for most of the country.

“The Fordham Institute has carefully examined Common Core and compared it with existing state standards: It found that for most states, Common Core is a great improvement with regard to rigor and cohesiveness,” she wrote in a column for National Review.

Several prominent current and former Republican governors, including Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, Florida’s Jeb Bush, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, vigorously support Common Core, according to The Washington Times.

Conservatives who do oppose Common Core have found an unlikely ally: teachers unions.

Though teachers have traditionally supported Obama’s policies, they don’t see eye-to-eye with the president on high-stakes standardized tests. Common Core requires frequent testing of students, and teachers worry students’ poor performances could be held against them. National standards also give individual school districts, schools, and teachers less flexibility to set their own curricula.

“That cuts across political lines,” said McGroarty. “Teachers are finding out about it, too, and becoming upset.”

Nevertheless, Common Core is proving to be divisive among the left as well as the right. Some union leaders, including Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, support the guidelines. She did agree that the implementation of standardized testing should be delayed for at least year, however.

“Today I called for a moratorium on the consequences of high-stakes testing associated with the Common Core standards until states and districts have worked with educators to properly implement them,” she said in a public announcement on Tuesday.

Whether recent events will amount to anything other than a bump in the road for Common Core remains to be seen. But McGroarty was impressed with how much attention activists on both the left and the right had brought to the issue in a relatively short amount of time.

“Until recently we had never met a legislature that knew about this,” he said.

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