DesJarlais Column: Common Core in Tennessee: A Race to the Middle?
Folks across my district universally support providing their children with a good education. Educating our children strengthens our communities, creates and supports jobs, and boosts our economic competitiveness in the global market and at home. As long as parents, teachers, administrators and other state and local actors are offered the ability to hold their educational systems accountable, our schools will be robust and our children will thrive.
Unfortunately, ongoing actions by the President are threatening to take over what we teach our kids. Our schools, and the teachers and administrators that make them work, are being shut out by a program known as Common Core.
Common Core began as a vision by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007 to bring about uniform “American standards” to schools. After pledging $60 million towards the goal, these groups worked with the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to develop and implement these standards. They found a strong ally in President Obama.
Understanding that implementation would be unattainable without the buy-in of state legislatures, President Obama and his allies saw in the economic downturn an opportunity. Using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the stimulus bill, as a vehicle, the Administration effectively tied Race to the Top (RTTT) money for schools to adoption of a specific set of standards that were functionally equivalent to Common Core. The worst part about this coercion is that the states never had a chance to see the standards before agreeing to plans that adopted them.
Now, some may argue that even if the process of implementing Common Core standards was questionable, that the standards themselves are strong and will enhance our kids’ education and better assist them in becoming college and career ready. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Common Core proponent, acknowledges that Tennessee’s previous English standards were stronger than Common Core’s. And while Tennessee’s previous math standards fell just below, Common Core’s math standards have been called into question by many renowned professors of mathematics, including one who served on Common Core’s validation board. The standards were so lacking that Common Core, instead of improving them, simply chose to describe them as “informed by” instead of being “benchmarked” to international standards.
So not only have states forfeited their academic standards to unaccountable Washington bureaucrats, they’ve accepted in return, watered down, internationally uncompetitive standards to which to hold our children.
Not only is this program bad for our kids, it may run afoul of federal statute. Several pieces of education law, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, prohibit the federal government from exercising any control over curriculum, program of instruction, administration or personnel. This puts the Administration on unsteady legal ground. Its actions have necessitated states modifying their curriculum, instructional agenda, and even textbooks to prepare their students for the assessments that will go along with Common Core.
One may wonder what can be done to fix Common Core, if not remove our kids from it. Unfortunately, since Common Core was designed – and is even owned – by Washington bureaucrats, state and local actors have little ability to amend it. This makes the possibility of fixing Common Core complicated at best and at worst, structurally impossible.
However, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, on which I serve, has diligently worked to bring back local control to ensure that those closest to our kids – their parents, teachers and administrators – have the biggest say in how we choose to educate them. Just this week, I was happy to vote in favor of H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which would repeal No Child Left Behind and empower communities to fix our broken education system.
I was also happy to cosponsor H.R. 2089, introduced by Rep. Martha Roby and Rep. Todd Rokita, which would prohibit the federal government from influencing or coercing state participation in specific education programs, standards, or curriculums - effectively gutting Common Core. This provision was also included in H.R. 5.
While the goal of holding our children to high standards of education is a good one, Common Core is bad policy, implemented unfairly, that achieves mediocrity at the expense of states’ sovereignty and local control. If we are to fix our broken education system, we must do it by including, not excluding, those closest to our kids in the process and I sincerely hope that the President and the Senate will join me in this effort.