Stand up for Common Core

Editorial, The Columbus Dispatch, November 30, 2013 -

An hours-long, crowded and noisy committee hearing last week on a bill that would repeal stronger math and reading standards for Ohio’s schoolchildren probably wasn’t much fun. It was, however, reassuring evidence that plenty of folks are standing up to defend the standards. Fortunately, supporters of the Common Core math and reading standards include state Rep. Gerald Stebelton, R-Lancaster, who is chairman of the House Education Committee, where Marietta Republican Rep. Andrew Thompson’s bill is being heard. Stebelton, who has said the bill to repeal the standards would move the state backward, should stick to his guns. And House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, should back him up. That a crowd showed up to urge repeal of the Common Core standards isn’t surprising. A backlash against the standards has spread among tea party ideologues and others, with the aid of far-right-wing commentators such as Glenn Beck and conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. And Ohio has plenty of residents, and apparently lawmakers, willing to believe that the standards are a left-wing plot driven by President Barack Obama to enact a federal takeover of education. The backlash is ill-informed on a number of points. The effort to develop a more-rigorous set of academic standards began in the George W. Bush administration, but was driven by states from the start. State governors and education officials recognized that many states’ existing standards were low, especially compared to those of other countries. In an effort to make it easier to meet federal performance targets set by the No Child Left Behind law and other programs, many states had dumbed down their standards to the point that students who are “successful” according to those states nonetheless are ill-equipped to compete in a global economy. The damage was furthered with state-created proficiency tests that were too easy or allowed too low a passing score. Hence, a years-long effort to develop better standards and rigorous tests to determine whether students know what the standards say they should know. Critics who claim the Common Core is a national curriculum are wrong; it remains up to states and local school districts to flesh out the standards in detailed curriculum. The Common Core has strong support among conservative education-reform groups, including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C., but also has offices in Dayton and which sponsors high-quality charter schools in Ohio. This should reassure conservatives that the standards aren’t part of a left-wing conspiracy. The standards aren’t perfect; that’s to be expected in a complex undertaking. Some requirements have been clumsily expressed. For example, a suggestion that high percentages of reading material — up to 70 percent for high-school seniors — should be “informational” in nature has caused critics to claim that the Common Core would drive literature classics from the curriculum. But a more-careful reading of the standards shows that the 70 percent doesn’t count only what’s read in English or language-arts classes; that includes copious reading in science and social-studies courses, too. Ohio shouldn’t retreat from the improved performance promised by the Common Core.