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Don’t fall for myths about Common Core

About a half-dozen years ago, governors and state education officials across the country grew concerned that their states had vastly differing expectations of what a high schooler should know. The lack of common standards was resulting in a high number of students having to take remedial math and English courses in college, and even the best U.S. students were falling behind those in other countries.

The governors, both Democrat and Republican, decided their states would collaborate to create rigorous educational standards that would spell out what children in each grade should know in basic subjects. Participation was voluntary, and beginning in 2010, 45 states signed up for the effort, called Common Core.

The Obama administration encouraged the effort, awarding Race to the Top grants to states that developed standards showing how high school grads were equipped for college or work. But those grants are awarded for any such standards, not just Common Core. Washington has played no other significant role, administratively or financially, in the states’ collaboration.

That’s the first and biggest myth about Common Core – that it’s a federal takeover of education. That whopper is part of a new push from tea party groups to get governors and state legislatures to reconsider their participation in the standards. In a few states, at least, it’s working. Governors in Indiana and Pennsylvania have hit the pause button on Common Core, and members of Michigan’s House and Senate have refused to fund implementation of the standards.

In North Carolina, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest wants a closer look, too, even though the state began implementing Common Core standards this school year. Last week, Forest complained that North Carolina has handed control of its education standards to national groups, and he said that teachers weren’t properly involved in determining what students should learn. N.C. teachers did have that opportunity, however, and many provided input in meetings that Forest, now a member of the state education board, apparently missed.

Forest might also be unaware that prominent conservatives and business organizations, including the North Carolina Chamber, support the rigorous Common Core standards because they’ll help students and businesses become more competitive internationally. Those conservatives and groups understand that states and local districts, not the feds, will decide what and how to teach in order to meet the goals. There are no mandatory “Big Brother” reading lists – another tea party myth – just suggestions about what genres make for a well-balanced student reader.

There’s some legitimate worry about Common Core adding to an already heavy standardized testing load, and for sure, states and educators are in for a case of sticker shock as student scores fall in the face of more rigorous testing and benchmarks. The latter, however, is not a bad thing. The Fordham Institute, which studies state educational standards, gave North Carolina’s pre-Common Core standards a D for their lack of clarity and rigor, and N.C. educators have long complained about high school graduates needing remedial courses when entering college. Common Core could better prepare those students – and all students – for life and work in a competitive global economy.

Tea party leaders, meanwhile, talk about Common Core as a winnable battle that could rejuvenate a shrinking movement. We hope N.C. lawmakers won’t be suckered into being a part of that political game. Our students need them to be smarter than that.

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