ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: A rural Georgia GOP leader on Common Core: Republicans should love it

ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: A rural Georgia GOP leader on Common Core: Republicans should love it

By Dave Belton

I’m a Reagan Republican, Taxed-Enough-Already, conservative school board member from rural Georgia…and I like Common Core.

On the face of it, Republicans should love the Common Core State Standards. Eisenhower called for higher education standards in response to Sputnik. Reagan decried that U.S. standards were too low. Conservatives have railed against lax standards, zero accountability and bloated education budgets for decades. We want measurable results, bottom-line solutions, and we don’t want them come from Washington.

Common Core does that. Developed by teachers, created by the states, it provides the kind of education that big business and colleges are demanding.

The initiative started in 1989 when President Bush (the elder) hosted a summit of governors to develop higher standards for public education. The idea came to fruition in 2007 when the National Governors Association (led by Sonny Perdue) created standards for English and math.

The goal? To create graduates with the necessary skills to be employable by businesses or go to college. Funded by big business, with 10,000 different inputs by ordinary parents and teachers, developed by teachers, benchmarked against competitive foreign countries, the group created a yardstick that could measure every student across the nation.

Up until that point, Republicans who knew about Common Core were unified behind the zero-budget, state-led initiative to an education system we’ve been trying to fix for generations. We welcomed these standards because they’d finally make all schools across the nation equally accountable – not to the meddlesome feds – but to 46 of our fellow states.

Then Obama endorsed the initiative, and conservatives turned against it.

I wish they’d look closer. I’d be annoyed if Obama announced he was suddenly a Braves fan. But that wouldn’t make me cheer for the Mets. That is the kind of backwards logic that some are now employing.

Obama did not develop Common Core. It is not a federal program. Not one federal official was on any of the teams that created these standards.

“But, wait!” you say. “The feds are controlling Common Core by using Race to the Top money!” Yes, that is one way federal money can be earned, but it is not the only way. Virginia, for example, won that money while rejecting Common Core.

“But the curriculum tells teacher what to teach!” Actually, Common Core isn’t even a curriculum. It is a set of standards that each child needs to know. One teacher put it this way, “It’s not about how to teach; it’s about where students need to be by the time that teaching is done.”

It’s the end zone – home plate – the goalie’s net. It’s a yardstick that nearly every state agreed upon; a goal that is much harder than before.

Why is this necessary? Nationwide, only 75 percent of ninth graders graduate from high school. Only 19 percent of our graduates are ready for college, only 44 percent enter college and only 21 percent earn a degree. Shockingly, 35 percent aren’t educated enough to enter the military. The United States is 25th among developed countries in math and 21st for science.

Over 600,000 jobs remained vacant last year because no one was educated enough to fill them. If you think those stats are good enough, then, yeah…Common Core is a horrible idea.

Common Core gets rid of No Child Left Behind. The dirty little secret is that although the feds administered that very unpopular reform program, they let the each state decide what their individual standards were.

The result? Some states made their standards hard and others quite easy, making it impossible to compare one state to another.

Common Core isn’t mandatory. State leaders, accountable to their constituents, can withdraw at any time. Which states opted out? Texas, Alaska, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Virginia — evenly matched between Red and Blue.

Common Core only involves English and math. It does not include social studies or science and probably never will. I have a strong record of successfully combating liberal textbooks. I’ve reviewed the standards thoroughly and have found no liberal bias.

In a nation like France, where people rarely move much from place to place, having national standards isn’t a big deal. In America, where children commonly move thousands of miles from state to state, it’s absolutely essential. Our tiny, rural system has dozens of children moving from out of state every month. Finding that your child is one or two years behind another state is extremely common.

I’ve talked to a lot of teachers about Common Core. Their biggest concern? That we’ll scrap it and start over (yet again) with something else. Georgia DOE is famous for rolling out plan after plan without sticking to anything more than a year or two. Teachers have been using these standards over a year. It would be a crime to derail them yet again.

Some parents complain it’s too hard or too confusing. Welcome to the 21st century! Our students will either rise to the challenge of the ever-competitive global marketplace or America will fail. Staying the course towards pale mediocrity is not a plan.

Measuring performance is the cornerstone of accountability. Imagine if the Crimson Tide refused to play anyone outside the state of Alabama! How could they possibly say they were the best team in the nation? States must be able to compete and measure themselves against other states. Every Republican knows that.

I hate the feds and think we should eliminate the federal Department of Education. But if conservatives would look beyond the hype, if they looked past the fact that Obama supports it, they’d find that Common Core is the kind of program they profess to like: developed by the states, voluntary not mandatory, has nothing to do with Washington, demands accountability, and all without additional request for money.

In short, they would embrace it.


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