Common Core debate needed

Published October 20, 2012

Superintendent Tony Bennett is likely to win re-election this fall. But as he campaigns these last few weeks, Bennett would be wise to preempt a coming erosion in his base and do his job as state education guardian by talking to more parents, teachers and voters about Indiana’s next set of curriculum and tests. Bennett was briefly surprised in July when local residents asked him about federal control over what children learn through the Common Core, a set of K-12 lists for what every student should know in math and English and, soon, history, science and the arts. More of that fury is coming. Indiana parents and teachers are becoming more nervous as Common Core mechanisms fall into place, and ignoring them will create a strong backlash among the very supporters Bennett needs to further his pro-school-choice agenda. Local networks of concerned residents are right now holding meetings on the Common Core throughout Indiana, at an astonishing rate. State representatives and local school board members are showing up. I’ve attended several. The energy in the room is electric, in contrast to typical school board meetings. Teachers report reluctance to speak up about the unwieldy standards and corresponding curriculum and teaching requirements, for fear they will lose their jobs. Parents bring examples of needlessly complicated multiplication homework their child’s own teachers cannot explain. These are motivated grassroots activists no leader should ignore. Two words for Bennett: Dick Lugar. Bennett himself has painted the Common Core as a state-motivated effort tainted by unwanted “federal overreach.” But there are several other reasons it has invited suspicion, and no one knows yet why these don’t bother Bennett. These include that national, Common Core-aligned tests will soon replace the ISTEP, and the federal government is funding test development despite statutes forbidding the feds from determining curriculum. These tests are being designed behind closed doors and will not be released until 2014, years after Indiana has spent millions incorporating itself into the Core. Because Indiana now ties teacher evaluations to tests and requires private schools to use its tests if they want voucher funds, this sets the stage for non-Indiana bureaucrats to determine Indiana teacher dismissal and private school curricula. Polls consistently reveal shocking majorities of voters are ignorant about the Common Core. For example, 79 percent of voters in a recent poll said they had heard “nothing” or “not much” about the Core, though nearly all states adopted it two years ago in the biggest and fastest education policy change in U.S. history. The public deserves better. Listing reams of consultancies and technocrats who support the Common Core is not enough. These are the same people who chained hundreds of thousands of kids to stupidity with ideas like “new math” and eliminating phonics, both of which have repeatedly been proven to hurt all kids and disadvantaged kids most. They also support other failed progressive ideas Bennett has rightly disposed of, such as central government control over education. Bennett has proven he can champion good education. He needs to explain to worried and uninformed voters how the Common Core fits the education philosophy he wants us to share. Joy Pullmann ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News and a research fellow in education at The Heartland Institute. She lives in Fort Wayne.