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Republicans See Political Wedge in Common Core

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/us/politics/republicans-see-political-wedge-in-common-core.html

 

I’ll admit that, having never attended a public school, I’ve lived most of my life uninformed about the public education system and the policies that affect the majority of American children’s schooling. I recognize this ignorance with embarrassment, knowing that it’s a tremendous shortcoming of mine as a United States citizen. But for anyone who faces the same nescience, I found that the above article from The New York Times is a fantastic starting point for those looking to familiarize themselves with the current controversies regarding American public education. 

The article, written by Jonathan Martin and appearing in the April 19, 2014 edition of 

The New York Times, focuses on the growing opposition to the Common Core State Standards. Martin describes the Common Core as a set of “learning benchmarks” for students in grades K-12 that are “intended to raise students’ proficiency in math and English” and increase  students’ preparedness for higher education and careers. While the No Child Left Behind Act passed under the Bush administration required individual states to establish, test, and prove proficiency in students’ basic skill levels in order to receive federal funding, the Common Core Standards seek to set a nation-wide standard of learning that is “based off of third-party, independent “research and evidence” and “informed by other top-performing countries to prepare all students for success in our global economy and society,” while also promising to be no lower than the “strengths and lessons of current state standards” 

(http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/). The Common Core was popularly adopted by 44 states “as part of a 2010 effort by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bolster the country’s competitiveness” and was initially met with the “overwhelming support of Republican governors.” 

Martin goes on to describe, however, that since the Obama administration has recently “embraced” of the national educational standards, many right-wing politicians have “reversed field.” While a state’s decision to adopt Common Core Standards remains optional, Arne Duncan’s recent clarification that “the Race to the Top program — which awarded billions in federal grants to the states — made Common Core a high priority for grant eligibility. Non-compliant states had low chances of winning the contest” (http://dailycaller.com/2014/04/09/arne-duncan-slowly-backing-away-from-common-core/) coupled rumors that Common Core compliant states would receive exemption to the No Child Left Behind Act has led Republicans to denounce the new standards as “a backdoor grab for federal control over what is taught in schools.” Republican figureheads such as governors Mike Pence (who withdrew Indiana from the Common Core last month), Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin as well as senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have led the push against Common Core, calling it “an overreach by the federal government” and a “silent erosion of our civil liberties.” They maintain that it would be more beneficial for their states to set “their own educational goals.”

Martin points put that this is a huge shift in Republican’s stance on public education, whose “No. 1 priority” back in 2001 was “a massive expansion of the federal Department of Education.” At the same time, a small ring of Republicans including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, as well as current governors Bill Haslam of Tennessee and Chris Christie of New Jersey continue to support the high national standards outlined by Common Core. They side with former governor of Georgia Sonny Perdue’s statement that this sudden Republican backlash against Common Core is the result of nothing more than “the two P’s, polarization and paranoia.”  

Contempt for Common Core continues to be mixed across party lines, most surprisingly bringing about the “unlikely marriage” between state-centric Republicans and those “on the left associated with teachers unions who are trying to sever any connection between test results and teacher evaluation.” Furthermore, while the Obama administration continues to be in strong favor of the program, the generally left-leaning Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who was ardently against the testing standards of the No Child Left Behind Act, recently seems to be wavering on the Common Core, having testified before the U.S. House of Representativesearlier in April “that he is in favor of education standards in general,” but not necessarily the “specific tenets of Common Core” (http://dailycaller.com/2014/04/09/arne-duncan-slowly-backing-away-from-common-core/). 

I really enjoyed this article, not only because Martin does an excellent job conveying the various party stances and arguments both for and against Common Core, but also because it forced me to do more extensive research into public education, and specifically what differentiates the Common Core Standards from those learning standards established through No Child Left Behind. While the large Republican backlash against federally-regulated education seems in keeping with the right’s traditionally state-centric stance, I was surprised by Martin’s point that many Republicans argued against Common Core because they were afraid of private sectors influencing the research and establishment of such standards. I certainly think setting some national education standard is key in keeping the United State’s intellectually competitive with the rest of the world, and I don’t believe setting one would be an “overreach of the federal government.” At the same time however, Albert Einstein’s quote “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid” also comes to my mind and reminds me that every individual has unique strengths and styles of learning, in which case an enforced national standard could be detrimental to the holistic education and development of students. I think ultimately there needs to be an established set of educational benchmarks, but ones that are perhaps unconnected with a school’s eligibility for federal funding, since this is the current system that seems to foster “teaching to the test” methods that end up hurting teachers and compromising a student’s ability to truly master material. While education was not a central focus in President Obama’s State of the Union Address this year, I’m hoping it will play a how bigger role in the presidential primaries for the 2016 election, and I look forward to hearing what, if any, alternatives are presented by candidates at that time. 

 

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