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Common Core should be abandoned

| Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Common Core is a brave, new issue that maybe hasn't come your way yet, and so let's sum it up. It is a mathematically weak, humanities-jabbing, ideologically inebriated, innovation-squashing, sparsely tested and therefore unproven scheme to dramatically change the educational lives of millions of American children in grades K-12.

Many of those defending it not only are amiss in the kinds of tests they want thrown at students, but could not themselves pass a test on what this thing is really all about. Some make it sound, for instance, as if there was loads of grassroots discussion as states figured out new English and math evaluation standards meant to ensure students could handle college or jobs before graduating from high school. That's false.

It's true that states were concerned about too many having low standards and wanted to do something about students not matching up with those in other developed countries. But Diane Ravitch, one of the country's most highly respected education experts, notes there was “minimal public engagement,” as the work on a single standard was done mostly by a nonprofit group called Achieve Inc., along with the National Governors Association.

The cheerleaders say Common Core was wholly voluntary with the 44 states that signed on, which is also false unless by “voluntary” you don't count bribes to make a state says “yes” and punishment if it says “no.” The Obama administration played a huge role, giving millions to the agreeable states and delivering swift kicks when a state like Indiana decided it wasn't going to participate.

The next mistake of some Common Core advocates is to say most opposition comes from tea-party, ultraconservative ignoramus types. This is a failure to notice opponents like Ravitch, who has noted there is no empirically reliable information on how this vast new project will affect our children. Other critical experts include Andrew Porter of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, who says Common Core standards are not the kinds of standards found in countries that do better; Tom Loveless, a Brookings Institution fellow who says the standards will do little to nothing to boost achievement; and James Milgram, a Stanford professor who is highly critical of Common Core math standards.

One other place where Common Core advocates get things wrong is in saying states do not have to adopt the recommended curriculum. They mostly do if they want their students to do well on the tests and their teachers to squeeze through their own evaluations. And these recommendations include pushing arts and classical literature to the side, major doses of unlettered progressivism and material that's inappropriate for targeted age groups.

The argument here is not solely between liberals and conservatives. Many mostly liberal teachers unions aren't overly happy with Common Core and some big-name conservatives and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are delighted. I hope those conservatives were not impressed by dubious promises of how Common Core would improve our economy and that they did not somehow believe it was representative democracy at work when most state legislatures did not even vote on states adopting the program, leaving acceptance to bureaucrats.

What everyone might focus on right now is how implementation is proving a massive, expensive headache in some parts of the country; that once the implementing is done, change will be difficult; and how state and local educational creativity could then go poof.

Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune.

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