Our Views: Flash point on standards

While political rhetoric in the State Capitol swells to a volume that would fill the Norton Anthology of Literature, a prominent Southern Republican pricks the bubble of criticism of Common Core, the new and higher academic standards that Louisiana and most other states are pursuing.

“Put simply, Common Core does not allow the federal government to prescribe what our children learn,” says former Gov. Bob Riley, of Alabama. “Much of the resistance to the program stems from this single misperception, which is itself rooted in a deep distrust of the president.”

Riley, writing in the National Review, dismisses the argument, saying President Barack Obama is not “driving the standards, nor did he create them. The states are propelling Common Core. Currently all but five states have fully implemented the standards. Moreover, the standards began gaining momentum long before Barack Obama was elected president.”

We wonder why opposition to the president, quite legitimate in our democracy, warps into frenzied opposition to a sensible policy change led by many staunch conservatives, including Riley and such state education leaders as Louisiana’s former education superintendent, Paul Pastorek.

Far from a national takeover “The standards now known as Common Core were initiated and developed by governors and other state leaders eager to raise educational standards in a way that was state-led, rather than being a Washington solution,” Riley wrote. “That’s why it is deeply encouraging that so many states are asserting ownership of the standards by adapting them to their needs.”

We agree with Riley that the Common Core standards are not a silver bullet for the complex problems of public education because Common Core is only a step in basic fields such as reading and mathematics. States can indeed teach other things they consider important, Riley noted, and Common Core recommends teaching from “a wide list of materials that state and local leaders can choose from to satisfy the standards.”

It’s probably as far from a national curriculum, the sort of standardization known in many European countries, as can be imagined.

As Riley says, the states were the leaders in Common Core. Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted them in 2010; some local districts and parochial schools are further along in adopting them into their curricula than others, and perhaps a slow rollout of Common Core standards is responsible for some opposition.

But the hot-button rhetoric of “Obama national takeover” far eclipses any legitimate criticism of the new standards.

“There is simply no evidence that national education standards will lead to a national curriculum or that they will stifle the ability of states to teach subject areas that matter to parents residing there,” Riley says.

That’s as true in Louisiana as in Alabama.