Common Core Is Not Right for Mississippi

Published December 17, 2014

Mississippi needs new, more rigorous academic standards in its K–12 schools. But Common Core is not the answer.

Amid public outcry, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) have changed their minds about Common Core. Both have spoken out in support of ceasing the use of Common Core State Standards despite that K–12 math and English standards have already been slowly rolled out and partially adopted.

Bryant and Reeves have been hit with criticism from some Common Core supporters for not having raised their concerns with the standards before considerable time, money, and effort were put into implementing them. Critics claim state executives are playing politics.

That is simply false. Reeves is right when he says Common Core is an overreach of the federal government and threatens local control and autonomy over education. The Obama administration essentially bribed states to adopt the standards by dangling a chance at Race to the Top grant money. Tying billions of dollars in potential funding—not guaranteed funding—to federally backed mandates such as Common Core adoption is simply legalized extortion.

The federal government’s hands should never be this close to establishing curriculum. Common Core proponents claim standards are not the same as curriculum, but that’s a dodge: Standards define what is taught and how it is taught. That is one reason so many teachers, administrators, and parents have spoken out against the adoption of Common Core.

Without the Race to the Top raffle, fewer states, if any at all, would have signed up for Common Core. There is no evidence to suggest national standards improve student achievement, so why bother? But the temptation to receive millions of dollars in “free” federal funds proved too great, and several states adopted Common Core before even seeing a final version. Obviously, they were lured by the money and not by the then-incomplete standards.

Under federal law, education and curriculum are supposed to be state issues, and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution indicates education is to be handled on state and local levels, as it is not enumerated as a federal power.

In addition to legal restrictions, there is a commonsense reason control of curriculum is left up to states and not the federal government: What a parent wants his or her child to learn and determining the best way to teach a child is not going to be the same in Chicago, Illinois as it is in Amory, Mississippi.

Local control allows schools to address the specific needs of their communities, and it provides more flexibility and autonomy to teachers, districts, and states rather than forcing all educators to work within a monolithic teaching regimen. Local control also gives residents and taxpayers a voice in how their money is spent and how their children are taught.

Common Core obliterates all those benefits, replacing them with standards found to be academically mediocre at best.

Companies such as Pearson are the only winners here. Pearson has been tasked with running testing for the system and produces many of the Common Core-aligned textbooks and educational resources.

“They have an awful track record of major screw-ups,” Bob Schaeffer, public education director of National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said of Pearson. “They’ve lost tests, mis-scored tests, had computerized testing failures, and have had nonsense questions on their tests. It’s an awful track record of repeated errors.”

Schaeffer notes Pearson and other large educational resource companies will make huge profits off of Common Core without having to provide quality products.

“The lack of competition can result in inferior products,” said Schaeffer. “In the case of Pearson, there is another issue of whether schools with Pearson educational products will do better on Pearson tests. There is a question as to whether schools that have the money to buy Pearson products will have a leg up.”

Schaeffer concludes, “To entrust a company with such a poor track record with this level of influence over education is dangerous.”

The loss of local control and the poor quality of Common Core are more than enough reasons to explain Bryant and Reeves’ change of heart. They should be commended for admitting their mistakes and trying to make things right.

The goal for Mississippi’s academic standards should be much higher than Common Core mediocrity.