It's Time To Set Aside Conspiracy Theories And Get Serious In The Common Core Debate

If I had to name one criticism I got consistently from readers this year (aside from the hate mail I get simply for being a conservative) is that I haven’t spent enough time focusing on the Common Core education standards. And that’s fair. I haven’t written much about Common Core, mostly because I haven’t been entirely sure what to make of it.

Recently Chris Berg posted this television segment here on SAB which claimed that Common Core was going to result in inappropriate reading materials in classrooms.

A reader emailed that post to North Dakota Superintendent Kirsten Baesler – an outspoken proponent of Common Core – and she dismissed it with some choice words for Berg’s segment. Here’s the email sent back to the reader:

[Reader Name Omitted],

Thank you for your nice comments about caring for our kids in ND. I care about them SO DEEPLY. We have such a responsibility to help them grow and be successful in their lives.

To answer your question about the book. I have checked with almost all of the major schools in North Dakota (including Grand Forks and Fargo –the area from which the TV program originated) and NONE of them have this book as part of their required reading list, NONE have it as part of their reading choices at any grade level and NONE of them even have it in their library for individual personal checkout.

In my opinion this “news” piece ( and I use the term “news” very loosely because it was more sensational than factual) was very poorly researched and did not present the facts or any truth to its claims. The fact and the TRUTH is that NO SCHOOL in North Dakota is reading this book as part of their teaching. Again in my opinion, it is a GREAT example of exactly how well local control works well in North Dakota. NO school board, parents or local educators want to have our students read this book and therefore it is not being read for education.

So the book Berg found objectionable isn’t be used in North Dakota schools, but it is a suggested book from Common Core? That seems like a rather fine distinction, and cold comfort to parents concerned about the content of the materials being suggested. Berg’s tongue-in-cheek reference to Fifty Shades of Gray might have been lost on some, but I think his point about what Common Core might be promoting in schools is a valid one.

A lot of the time, though, the claims about Common Core are outlandish, to say the least. At least a few times a week I get emails from people who tell me that Common Core is like Nazism. That it’s a plot to subvert the minds of our children, etc., etc.

That’s unfortunate. I am very skeptical about Common Core as policy, and I think it’s unfortunate that we aren’t having a real debate about the policy until after it’s been implemented in most parts of the country, but we are never going to have an intelligent debate about the policy as long as its based on wild and unsubstantiated claims.

Rather than perpetuating Common Core conspiracy theories, how about we talk about the real risks from the policy? Which I think John Stossel hits on perfectly in this column:

[Common Core is] the government’s plan to try to bring “the same standard” to every government-run school.

This may sound good. Often, states dumb down tests to try to “leave no child behind.” How can government evaluate teachers and reward successful schools if there isn’t a single national standard?

But when the federal government imposes a single teaching plan on 15,000 school districts across the country, that’s even more central planning, and central planning rarely works. It brings stagnation.

Education is a discovery process like any other human endeavor. We might be wrong about both how to teach and what to teach, but we won’t realize it unless we can experiment—compare and contrast the results of different approaches. Having “one plan” makes it harder to experiment and figure out what works.

Some people are terrified to hear “education” and “experiment” in the same sentence. Why take a risk with something as important as my child’s education? Pick the best education methods and teach everyone that way!

But we don’t know what the best way to educate kids is.

We don’t know what the best way is to educate kids, because there is no single best way. And that is the fundamental problem with Common Core. It tries to implement a one-size-fits-all standard onto education.

This is usually where Common Core apologists jump in and say Common Core isn’t curriculum. While that’s accurate, it’s also true that Common Core sets the goals curriculum must achieve. Sure, schools can still set their curriculum through “local control” as they please, but their students still have to match those Common Core standards. Meaning the curriculum will be in line with the standards.

Meaning Common Core may as well be curriculum. One-size-fits-all curriculum for every school in America.

This is the problem I have with Common Core. Not that it’s a modern iteration of Nazi indoctrination tactics, or that my students might be reading “mommy porn” in class, which are claims that will rightfully make most people roll their eyes back into their heads. Rather, Common Core represents a top-down, centralized solution for education problems that are caused by too much centralized bureaucracy in the first place.

What we need is education that is more flexible, not less. Common Core does the exact opposite. That’s the reason to oppose it.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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