SADOW: Believe It Or Not, Common Core Is More Good Than Bad

Gov. Bobby Jindal made a small stir at the prominent conservative RedState gathering in New Orleans last week when he criticized a basic concept of the Common Core State Standards. But he didn’t repudiate the entire idea, demonstrating the conflict many conservatives feel over an effort that should prove largely positive.

The CCSS comes from collaboration among states and the federal government, to lay down a basic set of educational standards and the infrastructure for evaluating their delivery. It allows for increased federal grants to those states that adopt them, but opting out of it does not disqualify them for these grants as long as they have a standards-based regime comparable to it.

To date, 45 states have signed on totally to the effort, scheduled to commence next school year. One has done so partially, while four plan to sit it out. Louisiana was one of the 22 originating states that helped formulate the idea, but that hasn’t stopped some policy-makers from wanting to reject participation. A resolution in the state Senate to this session to withdraw from the CCSS was withdrawn.

Some are discomfited over the effort for backwards rationales. Its emphasis on high-stakes testing draws the usual complaints from those who claim there’s some kind of theoretical error in their use, which in reality is an excuse for their real motive of not wanting testing because it will show the inferior job they and/or their allies are doing in educating. The Angry Left also chimes in with the assertion that utilizing testing extensively and the requisite overhaul of materials that would result in economic benefit to some suppliers, a refrain of its extremely tired conceptualization that “profit” is an obscenity.

More valid and reasoned critiques come from some conservatives. Like Jindal, some do not like the idea that standards endorsed at the federal government level are to be imposed. Of course, nothing compels the states to follow them, but these critics point out that this could disqualify those rejectionist states from participating in some grant programs like Race to the Top or ion waivers to No Child Left Behind, forcing states to make Faustian bargains.

However, Jindal in the same speech never called for abandoning the program, and certainly the state’s superintendant of education John White, who serves at the behest of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with most of its members being Jindal allies or appointees, has signaled no major changes are expected in the state’s continuing drive for CCSS implementation. For its goals are positive, it’s just that the federal government is taking a major role in leading the effort that so far has not been counterproductive to state autonomy, but that could change. So Jindal is perfectly consistent in criticizing that implementation issue, while apparently agreeing that the concept itself is sound.

One legitimate criticism is that the standards themselves are not as demanding as they should be. Yet states need to recognize that these are a floor, not a ceiling, and nothing prevents them from requiring increased rigor from their students. In fact, they would raise standards in more states than not. Even as several states recently have decided to pull out of the common assessment regimes associated with the CCSS, none have scrapped its goals (although a couple have added extra layers of oversight before completing implementation). Again, the CCSS does not mandate what must be taught nor can the federal government require any of that, but only sets out the goals for learning and a minimal baseline of knowledge that states may exceed.

Another is that the timeline may be too optimistic to get the infrastructure in place. This has driven much of the withdrawal from the assessment testing consortium but also is an issue with current student preparation, bringing up the question that the enterprise won’t work if too many students are too far behind in too many places.

The most consequential critique is of the money potentially to be spent on the effort and whether it is cost effective. Louisiana probably has less to worry about in this regards because it was one of the earliest adopters of the standards, beginning their implementation in 2010 and, unlike some other states, should have little difficulty in getting it up and running. To some degree, the point is moot as the state already has expended much effort to get to this point. Hopefully, at the aggregate level the formulation of the CCSS and its implementation plans were not too hasty and it will prove to be effective over time.

The concept is not perfect, but overall looks likely to improve matters nationwide. From a national perspective, relative to the rest of the world U.S. students at best are making no progress compared to and at worst are falling behind those of other countries. As long as states remain vigilant against the federal government too intrusively trying to dictate what to teach, Louisiana students likely will be net winners as a result of the state’s CCSS participation.

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