The Oklahoma and South Carolina state legislatures rejected the Common Core this past week, joining Indiana in abandoning the set of educational standards after initial adoption. They join Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia—which never implemented the standards—in resisting the program. Confusion over the nature of the Common Core itself has clouded the debate, leading away from a discussion of philosophies of education to demagoguery and denunciations of curriculum. The Common Core State Standards Initiative is not a solution to American education’s problems, but not for the reasons routinely recited.
The Common Core entered public discourse suddenly this year, due in large part to the celerity with which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation financed and coordinated its implementation in 2010. That has left lawmakers, often neglected entirely in the standard’s initial adoption, and the public, even more ignorant of the matter, questioning the wisdom of the standards after the fact. Those questions, however, often betray that ignorance.
Common complaints against the Common Core point to incoherent and overcomplicated homework problems, like these, and this one. Nonsense questions like these are not the fault of the Common Core, however, at least not directly. Rather, those are issues of curriculum, and while they may be poor attempts at implementing the principles espoused by the Common Core, they are ill-conceived by state and local education boards, not the Core’s creators. Beyond denouncing curriculum not produced by the initiative, which is a set of standards only, critics point to it as another example of federal overreach. While the Obama administration has incentivized adoption of the Common Core standards, the initiative itself is independent and sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
The Common Core Initiative is not an ill-begotten, monstrous curriculum-child of the Department of Education, attacking state and local sovereignty. It is a set of education standards adopted with little public discussion by state bureaucracies, a different problem.
The Common Core is an honest attempt by the Gates Foundation and the Initiative to improve American education. Though warped in application, the academic goals the standards represent are not inherently poor and may even be improvements on current educational expectations in some places.
At the end of the day, however, the Common Core is still a set of standardized tests and still an attempt to manufacture standardized citizens. It represents no change to the philosophy of education at large today. It does not address poor student performance by enriching the lives of those students, but with more precisely defined bare minimums. It does not teach whole persons, or address students as human beings, or give them the intellectual and moral framework to live full lives—good lives. Instead it teaches them enough to be ready for a job, to be defined by their work, by their technology, by their place as cogs in a machine.
It might be a question of semantics. An education for the good life might teach the same subjects, at the same time, to the same requirement as the Common Core calls for. But it must teach human beings, not bubbles on a standardized test.