Quin Hillyer: Throw Common Core out the door

As public policy, Common Core is uncommonly poor.

Louisiana ought to jettison all formal affiliation with these controversial, counterproductive, national “standards” for (mis)education. While students struggle with incomprehensible approaches to simple arithmetic and are poisoned with “Core-aligned” smut readings that would give Grandma the vapors, the Bayou State should produce its own indices of school success — and then encourage curricular innovation to ace those indices.

Instead, legislators simpering beneath the bully-boy tactics of big-business lobbyists have killed all the bills this year aimed at blocking, delaying or amending Common Core by name. Meanwhile, Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel continues to sit on three other semirelated bills designed to mitigate some of the Core’s worst damage.

Circus watchers can step right up and watch committee video of House members swearing allegiance to the Core, then in the next breath asking exactly what the Core is and where it can be found. (Memo: Don’t support something you don’t understand.)

Ask a Louisiana Association of Business and Industry type why he supports the Core, and you’ll get vague but firm insistence that, well, dontcha know we need high standards — but if you ask why these particular standards, here in Louisiana, you’ll merely receive vapid, gossamer-weight assurances that “all the experts” agree.

Thus are Louisiana’s children used as guinea pigs for an educational house of horrors.

Don’t believe me? Write down this Web address and look it up on your computer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YLlX61o8fg. It shows a little girl using Core-endorsed methods to add the numbers 1,568 and 1,423 and 680. She must draw big square boxes to represent each “100,” a cube for each thousand, single lines for each ten and a dot for each “one.” It takes up a whole blackboard; it’s almost unfathomably complicated; it causes her to produce a wrong answer.

It’s a nightmare.

This isn’t just a random misapplication of Core standards. It’s what the standards demand. Throughout all elementary grade levels, the Core arithmetic standards require variations of “using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value,” with plentiful other gobbledygook about “relat(ing) the strategy to a written method and explain(ing) the reasoning used.”

These aren’t optional, alternative strategies for teaching children who have difficulty with the method we all learned (and which the child in the video calls “way easier”) growing up, namely adding the numerals in columns and “carrying the one” to the next column if the result is greater than 10. Instead, the video’s method is the only way the Core says first-graders and second-graders should be taught. Or, rather, hopelessly confused.

That’s just one example of the ill-advised, newfangled tommyrot that pollutes the math and reading standards or the officially “aligned” curricular material that inevitably accompanies the Core. (The Core’s official appendix of “exemplars” includes books for high school reading with alarmingly graphic descriptions of sex and even child rape, the latter from the perspective of the rapist.) Yet, even if most parents find the Core exemplary (fat chance), the entire concept is anathema to the American tradition.

One ingenuity of the American experiment is its use of states and localities as “laboratories of democracy” where policies can be tested, and either succeed or be discarded, in discrete areas rather than imposed from above. States naturally compete to produce the best results; successes are copied, with no central direction needed.

The Common Core upends this tradition. Oh, sure, its supporters protest that these are just standards and that states are free to adopt their own curricula to measure up. But then their state departments of education all recommend specific textbooks or approved reading lists or other material, with a lucrative cottage industry devoted to profiteering off of being “Core-aligned.”

It is a nationalized, one-size-fits-all curriculum snuck in through the back door. Seriously: The (arguably illegal) Obama linkage of the Core to so-called “Race to the Top” funds demonstrated just how easily the whole educational enterprise can be nationally co-opted in one fell swoop. That’s dangerous: If everybody nationwide is doing the same thing and it doesn’t work, then everybody suffers. Even if some Republican governors (including Bobby Jindal, before he changed his mind) were among the bipartisan group that crafted the standards, conservatives especially should be aghast at this invitation to more centralized, homogenized power.

Now, here’s the kicker: Louisiana doesn’t even need the Core to gain respect for its curriculum. The 2012 “Quality Counts” assessment, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and published by Education Week, ranked Louisiana second among all the states for the worthiness of its “standards, assessments, and accountability,” with an astonishingly high score of 97.2 out of 100.

Note that this was based on Louisiana’s system for the 2011-12 school year, before the state implemented a single bit of Common Core.

Louisiana’s educational apple already was nicely ripening; why try to graft it onto a new, rotten Core?

New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is Qhillyer@theadvocate.com.

Editor’s note: This column was changed on Monday, May 19, 2014, to change a question mark inserted during the editing process back to a period as intended by the columnist.