Peggy Lehner stressed last week that she and her Senate colleagues had listened, and now they would act on legislation, as part of the mid-biennium review, that addresses concerns about the Common Core. The chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee explained that the provisions would reassure regarding such matters as privacy and curriculum in public schools.
The legislation also eases, or delays, the issuing of overall letter grades for school districts and the application of penalties or sanctions for underperforming school systems. These postponements make sense as schoolteachers and administrators attempt to deal with the rush of changes. Better to permit more time to get the transition right, to maintain sufficient focus on the crucial day-to-day work of learning in the classroom.
What about the elements dealing with the fury about the Core, the insistence that somehow the pursuit of higher achievement translates into the federal government overreaching? The Senate has offered reassuring words, yet in the main the provisions would make little difference, and largely because the Core isn’t what so many claim it to be.
Take the concern about privacy. An acceleration of data collection began with the administration of George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind. It is a smart idea, information about school and student performance the basis for making improvements in the way children learn. The collection does not involve data about individual students or violate privacy in any way. The Common Core does nothing to change that.
Neither does the Core involve a top-down approach to curriculum, Washington in some way dictating what it is taught in Tallmadge or Springfield or Akron. The Core is aspirational. It sets markers for achievement, such as students mastering multiplication and division in grades three to five, and algebra in grade eight (a key predictor of future academic success). It suggests that English classes include exposure to Shakespeare, the founding documents of the United States and leading works in American literature. Yet these are not required. The how of educating students, the choices of books and other parts of curricula, remains with states and local districts.
The Core is the creation of governors, Republicans and Democrats, plus state school officials. They seek to assure that all students seek to meet the same high standards, ensuring that the country maintains a competitive posture in the global economy. So the effort is about equality and opportunity.
No surprise that the Obama White House linked Race to the Top money to the Common Core. At the same time, it hardly has used a heavy hand. States have flexibility. Texas and Virginia have chosen to write their own academic standards, yet they still are eligible for Race to the Top money.
Unfortunately, once the president voiced his support for the Common Core, many Republicans began to back away. They have been encouraged by voices on the far right, distorting the origin and purpose of the Core, looking to serve their own agendas. Which helps explain the actions of state Sen. Peggy Lehner and others at the Statehouse who know well the value of the Core and what it really seeks to achieve.