It was disappointing to learn last week that my home state pulled out of the Common Core State Standards initiative, citing fear of losing local control over public education. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill withdrawing the state’s participation in the consortium, effectively lowering education standards in a state with little room to do so.
Fallin’s comments after signing the bill were laced with rhetoric we hear all too often these days. She managed to work President Obama into the talking points and used terms like “federal takeover” and “local control.”
I’m not sure what local control means in terms of education standards. Does that mean that two plus two equals five in our town? I’ve never understood the overwhelming fear of losing local control over education standards within our community. While there are subtle differences between geographic regions of this country, we all learn pretty much the same thing. It might be called the Civil War in New York and the War of Northern Aggression in Alabama, but are the textbooks really that different?
There seems to be an ingrained fear that schools will turn our kids into heathens, or worse yet liberals, if we make even the slightest move toward national standards for education.
I’ve always thought the debate over teaching evolution in public schools was pointless. I encouraged my kids to learn evolution and thoroughly enjoyed our discussions about evolution vs. creationism at home. They both have fairly evolved opinions about the subject (pun intended) and both accept on faith the Book of Genesis.
We need to get past this irrational fear of a federal cosmic thumb imprinting our youth with some pre-packaged political dogma. It makes no sense. Isn’t a better approach to expose our kids to multiple theories and disciplines and refine those outcomes based on our own experiences and beliefs? Isn’t that what local control is really about?
I take no issue with any state that does not adopt the Common Core curriculum. There appears to be a growing bureaucracy associated with the initiative and it’s becoming (like many things in education) burdensome to manage and implement. Many states are adopting the standards without joining Common Core. They want the reforms but aren’t interested in any headaches that go with it. And most importantly, they want to use their own standardized test.
In Oklahoma’s case, they joined in 2010 and spent millions putting the plan into place. Now, months before the first year of standardized testing was to begin under Common Core, the plug has been pulled.
“This decision will throw many schools into chaos as they prepare for a new academic year,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association in a story published in The Oklahoman. “It also represents a significant waste of the time and resources schools have spent on the transition over the last four years. This decision is not good for Oklahoma’s schools and it’s not good for Oklahoma’s kids.”
Common Core was born in academia, not government. Certainly the federal government had no role in its genesis. The National Association of Governors took the lead role in getting it implemented in more than 40 states. The business community also played a huge role in its development, citing the need for a better educated labor pool.
The controversy about Common Core stemmed from the idea that every student in every state take the same test, and scores between states be compared for evaluation. That’s probably asking a lot, given that individual states can’t seem to decide on the best way to handle testing on their own. Education Week reported that 19 different standardized tests will be used in the upcoming academic term nationwide. (I’d love to see one student take all 19 tests, and compare the scores.)
It pains me to see Oklahoma take a step backward in education. It would have been better to take no step at all. As of today, no formal education standards exist in my home state and schools will start opening there in about 60 days.
My children went to a public high school that had adopted more rigorous academic standards than the state had mandated. They both received a solid education. It was locally controlled and they still studied and learned material I objected to on a fundamental basis. So what exactly is the benefit of local control when it comes to education standards?
In Oklahoma, it’s apparently maintaining the right to lower them.
Steve Boggs is editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.