Commonsense, Not Common Core
By Congressman Randy Forbes
February 18, 2015
This spring, students across the nation will file into desks and take their first tests against Common Core standards, giving our nation the first glimpse of how they have fared under the new standards.
Many have said these test results will be a big indicator of the viability of the standards. Perhaps. But never mind the test results for a moment, because I believe we’ve already received some of the most important feedback on Common Core.
Across the nation, teachers, parents, and students have vocalized their criticisms, chief among them that the curriculum lacks commonsense, it strips schools of creativity, and creates more layers of rigorous unrealistic standards.
Although the Commonwealth of Virginia has not adopted Common Core standards, it’s important for all states to pay close attention to these criticisms. At its core, this is about power and autonomy, in addition to who best knows the hearts and needs of our children and teachers – a centralized, federal machine, or parents and state and local school districts?
When it comes to Common Core, the opinions of parents, teachers, students, and local officials matter the most. They are the individuals on the ground, living in the reality of the Common Core standards every day. For educators, “teaching to the test” isn’t just a buzz phrase; it is a daily frustration they feel about the autonomy they have over their classrooms. For parents, the inability to understand new math problems is a real frustration because they are the ones sitting at the dinner table with a tearful child looking for parental guidance – the parents themselves feeling helpless to offer some.
Many concepts look good in abstraction, but the real test comes at implementation: Hours in a day for a teacher. Tears at the dinner table for parents. Actual results in an increasingly global economy.
The federal government can attempt a one-size-fits-all approach but at the end of the day, what matters most is knowing whether the approach energizes that third grade class in Sugar Grove, Illinois. Bureaucrats in Washington may draft up standards that look good on paper, but what matters is whether a teacher can implement them with her first graders in Scottsdale, Arizona. What works in Chester, Virginia may not work in Porter, Indiana, and what works in New York City may not work in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Decades ago, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) allowed the first steps of government involvement in education. Since then, we’ve seen progressive changes to the law that add just a little bit more federal reach into classrooms. And over the past several years, the Obama Administration has used a combination of waivers under ESEA (now called No Child Left Behind) and Race to the Top grants to coerce states into adopting Common Core standards. For example, states can be awarded waivers from onerous No Child Left Behind requirements – if they agree to adopt Common Core standards.
Proponents for Common Core argue that states have the opportunity to opt out of Common Core standards. Indeed, Virginia has opted to use our own set of standards. However, states that have already adopted Common Core face great difficulty exiting the standards without being penalized. This essentially “locks in” government control of education.
I believe our nation’s global competitiveness is a direct function of the quality of our children’s education from pre-K to college and beyond. I also believe that elected school board members and administrators who work one-on-one with parents, teachers, and families know their schools better than the federal government does.
It’s time we reduce the federal footprint in education and restore local control while empowering parents and education leaders to hold schools accountable for effectively teaching students. Legislation like the Local Control of Education Act, which I’ve cosponsored, allows states to more easily exit the federal standards. It prohibits the federal government from using grants or waivers to mandate that states adopt specific curriculum or academic standards, like Common Core.
Keeping citizens close to the education process enhances local flexibility, protects taxpayers’ investments in education, and strengthens state and local autonomy. It puts power back where it belongs. And it gives states the opportunity to choose commonsense education, not Common Core.