Politics Will Continue To Undermine Public Education Reform

I haven’t posted in a few weeks because I have been in a period of frustration.     Reading the lies that continue to published to unravel the Common Core has caused me to reflect on the state of public education in the United States and how difficult it is to effect meaningful change.   The politics around public education reform is as toxic as it’s ever been.

What is happening right now is a symptom of the broader political battle between Democrats and Republicans, between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians, between state and local control versus the role of the federal government in our society.  This blogger will continue to insist that local control will exacerbate the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of public education.  

The Common Core was an effort led by the states – by a group of Governors  and Chief State School Officers.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan staunchly defended the Common Core in a speech last week.  His remarks should be read.  He discusses the difference between a “curriculum” and “standards.”   These standards are far superior to what preceded them.  We should not have 50 states with 50 different standards.  No content provider would be able to scale such a fragmented business, but more importantly, the standards we hold our students to should be substantially similar regardless of where they are educated.   There was tremendous state support for these common standards – 45 states plus DC adopted them.   While it is important that the standards do NOT result in an excessive amount of standardized assessment, what is important is that the quality of such assessments improves significantly.   And we don’t need more multiple choice tests, which do hardly anything towards assessing learning, only the ability to memorize facts without context.

Tea Party activists are distorting the facts and causing fear and paranoia in the education space.   Even folks like AFT President Randi Weingarten are lobbying for a moratorium on tests related to the Common Core.    We know that anytime a new reform is put in place, there may be an initial drop in academic achievement.  That happened in parts of Tennessee which was one of the winners of the Race to the Top competition.   But then scores go up. 

Even in Georgia, whose own standards are practically identical to the Common Core, local school boards are caving into the misinformation and paranoia spread by local Tea Party members.  Cobb County’s board decided NOT to approve new math textbooks aligned to the Common Core.  As education journalist Maureen Downey stated in the story:  “In declaring that Cobb cannot buy textbooks aligned with Common Core math standards, the school board is essentially saying students cannot have textbooks aligned to the Georgia standards, either. Because they are the same.”   

We cannot let these self interest groups unravel years of collaboration that resulted in a set of standards that are materially better than what preceded them.   Our education system will be set back many, many years if the Common Core is derailed.   In the words of Secretary Duncan:

Whatever your views about public education, it is indefensible to lower learning standards. There is simply too much at stake — for the country — for our future — and for your industry.

If your state lowers standards, you lose a high bar for reading, for critical thinking, for writing, and for taking ideas seriously. You lose one of the cornerstones of democracy. Because the power of democracy depends upon an informed electorate — and a free press.

Politics certainly undermines education reform – I hope we have the courage to overcome such obstacles.  Our children’s future depends on it.

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