Common standards predictable opposition


As recently reported by The Commercial, a vocal group of Arkansas Republicans are mounting a campaign to kill the Common Core educational standards. Their efforts mirror those of tea party members across the U.S. Their primary talking point revolves around an assertion that Common Core will not prepare students for success in college, but the real issue is one of state’s rights.

The Obama White House has promoted the Common Core standards, which were drafted by governors and state education officials in both parties and largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The purpose of Common Core is to create consistent math and reading standards from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

A large variability in academic standards across states has been partly blamed for mediocre rankings of U.S. students in international comparisons. It should also be noted that the Common Core standards do not dictate curriculum. Rather, individual states decide what to teach and how to prepare children for standardized tests based on Common Core.

As has been ably demonstrated here in Arkansas, any perceived threat to a certain marginal segment’s ultraconservative provincialism won’t be tolerated. Those on the distant extremities of the right know that doctrinally unfettered public education invariably leads to the teaching of all things not conservative, which flies in the face of their narrow world view.

The opposition to Common Core is at odds with the majority of American desires. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation supportive of Common Core.

With the grim predictability of a bad penny, several national conservative groups, including FreedomWorks, a tea party umbrella organization, and some state affiliates of Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, have joined the fray.

Despite well-heeled opposition, many on the right support Common Core. In 2013, Michael Petrilli of the conservative think-tank, The Fordham Institute, wrote that the standards “are rigorous, they are traditional—one might even say they are ‘conservative.’ They expect students to know their math facts, to read the nation’s founding documents, and to evaluate evidence and come to independent judgments. In all of these ways, they are miles better than three-quarters of the state standards they replaced.”

Add to this the leadership of the Business Roundtable, a group of America’s most influential and powerful business leaders. BRT members have been very outspoken in their support of Common Core. BRT’s members lead U.S. companies with $7.4 trillion in annual revenues and more than 16 million employees. BRT member companies comprise more than a third of the total value of the U.S. stock market. With this kind of backing and pedigree, opposition couched in future economic competitiveness is seriously undercut.

Proponents of Common Core likely saw the fight coming. There exists in this country a small segment of the population that would object to any national standard for anything. They believe that everything should be decided at the individual and local level. They construe this anomic chaos as some kind of democratic ideal. They are wrong.

Democracy isn’t about ego-driven policy (or the whole-cloth absence of policy). It’s about consensus and compromise. It’s about crafting laws and standards that protect all of us. It’s about protecting us from each other and from ourselves.

Sadly, we don’t always know what’s best for us in terms of the bigger picture. The more we buy into the rhetoric of party outliers and billionaire robber barons, the tighter we make the chains around our own ankles. Like it or not, we need standards bigger than our own individual whim.