There has been a lot of misinformation about common core education standards, and understandably parents are becoming more interested and concerned about the direction we are moving with education in South Dakota. I think the increased awareness and parental involvement is fantastic. Some are believe that this is an effort by state educators to give up local control of education or to adopt curriculum that is contrary to the values of South Dakotans.
But what I have learned as I have spoken to superintendents and the state department of education is that they have their own reasons for adopting the common core standards which have little to do with the decades-long march to nationalize education standards, textbooks, tests, and methods for all 50 states. The proponents of nationalized education system are very vocal about this agenda, but local educators do not believe adopting these standards equates to endorsing this goal or losing local control. Personally, I disagree. These standards were adopted without parental involvement, which was a huge mistake. We are naive if we do not wake up and realize the common core “carrot” is simply leading us down a path of nationalization that ends with a big, ugly stick.
Local education officials have conveyed to me that they have spent a considerable amount of time combing through the individual standards for math and english, and have verified firsthand that on the whole, the standards were an improvement on what they were currently using. “No Child Left Behind,” another stab at national control of education, had actually caused some schools to narrow and reduce their standards, so another benefit of adopting common core was to receive a waiver from the mandates imposed by NCLB and improve the focus of the education we are delivering.
Another reality state education officials face is they do not believe they have the staffing levels necessary to develop an adequate standards set on their own, and that such a monumental effort would require millions of dollars and thousands of manhours from qualified experts. Therefore, when the well-funded national groups that designed the common core standards presented them, it was seen as a benefit by local education officials–they could have comprehensive baseline of standards and add to them locally as they saw necessary.
While parental involvement in our district far exceeds state norms, the majority of parents have historically taken and hands-off approach to decisions made by school boards and administrators, trusting them explicitly or by default to make standards and curriculum choices on their behalf. We must return to the conviction that parents are the primary educators, and should be intimately involved with what their child is learning, who is teaching it to them, and how they are learning it. We as parents can take a much bigger role when it comes to school board meetings, elections, and state education policy, and I believe this debate can be the beginning of a more parent-led effort to improve education.
One of the main arguments proponents offer for common standards is the ability to compare results and grade levels when a student transfers between states. With this assertion I vehemently disagree. The laws of economics, like the laws of gravity, are inescapable. When you try to force everyone to be the same, regardless of good intentions, the standards always trend towards the lowest common denominator. Those developing textbooks and curriculum aligned to the standards are forced to focus on large population centers like Miami, Minneapolis, New York, and Los Angeles, while our strong values and unique opportunities for excellence will be marginalized or ignored.
Instead, we should have competing standards in each state, allowing the ones that produce the best results to rise to the top. Likewise, each district could have different specialties based on the needs and strengths of their students. Common Core is a new set of standards that have not been tested, and while the proponents are hopeful, we don’t have any long-term data that proves these standards are the best focus for children in the long run. Also, they should have been released as open source. Since they are copyrighted, they can only be added to, but not changed by local districts.
Nationalization of education and the loss of local control is a real and immediate threat. We in South Dakota want to focus on working hard and raising our families. But we cannot be ignorant of the very vocal, powerful, and well-funded groups who want to create not only uniform standards, but uniform curriculum and control over how we educate our children.
I trust the intentions of our local educators and officials, and I believe they are acting with the best interests of the students in mind. I hope the standards we have adopted thus far will help to create educational excellence, and the next year should start to show some results. But when the Federal government and national groups start using coercive funding tactics to drive us further down the road of nationalized education, I hope we can all agree to get off the bus.