With all the rhetoric touting the imagined benefits of the looming Common Core Standards, perhaps it is time to apply a little critical thinking and examine some of the claims made about Common Core.
'Idaho Core Standards are better than Common Core Standards.' No, Idaho Core Standards are Common Core Standards with the word "Common" scratched out and "Idaho" written in its place. This makes them easier to market to Idahoans but functionally, there is no difference. In fact there is a legal requirement that the state standards cannot vary more than 15 percent from the national standards.
'Common Core Standards were developed by the state governors using a 'grass roots,' bottom-up effort.' No. Imagine Butch and Bobby, Gary and 47 other governors sitting down with their crayons and crafting the new standards. Ridiculous. Furthermore, if it was a communal effort by government employees (politicians and teachers) then the standards produced would be the property of the taxpayers who paid for the effort and the standards as written would be in the public domain. But they aren't. The copyright for the standards is owned by a private company; the company that wrote them.
'47 states have adopted the Common Core Standards.' No, 47 states agreed to accept money offered as a bribe from the Department of Education but most of the states did this before the standards were even written. Common Core Standards were a "Pig in a poke" and accepting the standards was never debated in the Idaho House or Senate. Now that they ARE available for examination it is prudent to go back and reexamine the decision to accept the federal grant money.
'Common Core Standards will improve education.' I would very much like to see ANY empirical evidence that this statement is true. Where were the new standards tested to show that they lived up to the claims? Where are the better students? Can it possibly be true that we are conducting a nationwide generational experiment on our children of an un-tested, un-proven education process?
Yes, that is exactly what we are doing. "Change" is synonymous with "different" but it is not synonymous with "better."
'Data collected on our children is secure because we don't use their names.' This claim would be funny if it wasn't such a serious issue. Suppose an agency had access to the test results from your child's school. Now suppose this same agency also had detailed health records for your child. Thanks to Common Core and Obamacare, virtually every government agency AND anyone they contract services from will have access to at least these two databases. Now imagine that someone compares the days a child was absent from class with the days your child visited the doctor. When the pattern matches they can put your child's name next to your child's psychometric and scholastic test data. But you can rest easy because the government has a policy against using this information for personal or political reasons. Don't take my word for it, just ask Lois Lerner.
'Common Core will allow us to compare the performance of students from different states.' No. Common Core does not standardize testing so how students are evaluated can vary from state to state.
Imagine the standard was for each student to stack some bricks into a pile 3 feet high but it was up to each state to decide the length of a 'foot'. Political pressure for students to do well would tend to skew the testing and the result may be that a 'foot' in Idaho could be 10 inches long and a 'foot' in Oregon may be only 5 inches long. Without consistent measurement, standards are meaningless.
In a recent editorial, The CdA Press joined Idaho Business for Education in calling for Idahoans to embrace Idaho (Common) Core Standards. So who is behind Idaho Business for Education? IBE has about 80 member businesses, a tiny fraction of the business community in Idaho. The Chairman of IBE is Skip Oppenheimer who also owns a food products consortium (Oppenheimer Companies, Inc.).
The IBE Regional Chair for North Idaho is Judy Meyer, who is also a Trustee for North Idaho College. I have spoken to many business owners in the manufacturing and technology sectors who do not see Common Core as a solution to our education problems. They see Common Core as a distraction that threatens to stifle creativity and innovation through the enforcement of standardization.
One thing is certain about Common Core Standards; they are common, making them an attractive target for special interest groups. There have already been reports of labor unions lobbying to make the standards "union-friendly" by emphasizing the advantages and achievements of organized labor. This is only the first salvo in what will be a long battle for the hearts and minds of coming generations.
We all want better performance from our public schools. The Idaho Constitution recognizes that "The stability of a republican form of government depend(s) mainly upon the intelligence of the people." However, intelligence is not just answering a test question correctly. You can train a dog to do that. Intelligence is the ability to be creative, to build on core knowledge and extrapolate into the unknown. While proponents of Common Core Standards claim that these standards will promote intelligence, there is no proof or evidence that this is the case. It is all a theory being proposed by individuals who have an interest in advancing Common Core.
If improvement in education is what we seek, then we need to look no farther than the Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy, one of the top performing schools in the country. Why are we spending so much effort on implementing an unproven and untested set of standards when we have an example of something that works well right here? Let's figure out why CDA Charter Academy works and use that as a model for improvement.
All the arguments for Common Core Standards are based on the assumption that they will improve education. This is an assumption because there is no proof, no evidence, and no studies that show that Common Core will produce the results proponents claim.
To the contrary, over the last four decades, the ever increasing reliance on standards and testing has been accompanied by an ever decreasing level of scholastic performance. If that trend is an indicator of future performance then the adoption of ever more restrictive standards embodied in Common Core will result in a further decrease in true scholastic performance. Unfortunately, since the testing is also new, the true performance will be masked and, before we can even acknowledge it is happening, we are at risk of losing an entire generation to a failed experiment that is Common Core.
Our children deserve better than to be common.
Note: This commentary/opinion was first published in the Coeur d'Alene Press July 18, 2014. Brent Regan is a member of Idaho Freedom Foundation's Board of Directors. He is a business owner and a former Coeur d'Alene School Board member.