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Editorial: Myths guiding opposition on Common Core

Last modified: 8/21/2014 11:50:12 PM
Common Core, the education reform plan created by the Council of Chief State School Officers and backed by the National Governors Association, once had the support of 45 states and the District of Columbia. The support was bipartisan.

Nearly a score of Republican governors backed the plan as a replacement for No Child Left Behind. But in recent years it has become almost an article of faith for Republican political candidates to oppose Common Core.

Most of that opposition is based on mistaken beliefs about what Common Core is and what the reform plan hopes to accomplish. To compete in a global economy, the nation needs to ask students in every state to reach as high as they can and create standards that encourage them to do so.

Opponents tend to labor under the misguided belief that states and local school districts know best when it comes to setting standards for their children. That veneration of local control led to wildly disparate standards under No Child Left Behind.

Some states, like Massachusetts, set tough goals. Others would graduate a doorstop.

New Hampshire standards are not as rigorous as those of Massachusetts, but they’re considerably tougher than average.

To evade accountability under then-President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, educators in some states cheated. Others, since states were allowed to set their own standards, dumbed them down to make it easy for students and schools to meet proficiency goals.

The Republican candidates vying to replace Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan – Walter Havenstein and Andrew Hemingway – both oppose having a national standard to measure, not just rote learning but each student’s ability to think critically.

When told, in a meeting with the Monitor’s editorial board, that in states with low standards a high school student who only reads at an elementary school level would nonetheless graduate, Hemingway said, “Who cares?” But everyone should care when a state or a school district shortchanges students by failing to ask enough of them.

A student who doesn’t master basic skills like reading, writing and math faces a grim economic future.

He or she will be more likely to require help from taxpayers and less likely to help America compete globally.

National standards would recognize that Americans are mobile, and the younger they are the more likely they are to hold different jobs for different employers during their working life.

A student who isn’t taught that most important of skills, learning how to learn, will be left behind.

Even in New Hampshire, more than half of the high school graduates entering community college need remedial help to do the work. Common Core is an attempt to change that. It is, and should be, a work in progress.

A lot of ridiculous things are being said about Common Core, chief among them that it’s a federal takeover of education. It isn’t. The standards were created by the states.

Participation is voluntary, though the potential to receive federal funds is an incentive to adopt them. Common Core is not a curriculum; curricula are designed by school districts. Teachers are free to take any approach they believe will help students meet the standards.

How to measure success under Common Core’s standards, and how to use the results of standardized tests and other assessment components to evaluate teachers, is a separate problem and one not easily solved.

The right course, for New Hampshire and other states, is to adopt the standards and improve on them while being cautious when using them to measure student and teacher success.


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