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Do we lack a ‘common core?’

My guess is that 30 years ago, the so-called Common Core education standards wouldn’t have been controversial at all.

As State Board of Education President John Austin told me yesterday, Common Core is not a curriculum. It doesn’t dictate what classes are to be taught. It doesn’t come from the federal government, and it is not being imposed by the federal government. Nor does it allow Washington or the United Nations to track students, or give outsiders any say in their education. 

Common Core is merely a set of standards designed to try to make sure that students in Michigan get both an adequate education, and approximately the same education as students in Florida or Indiana or Oregon.

The Common Core standards actually grew out of conservative, standards-based ideas. They came about because of widespread realization that many schools were just not doing the job, and were graduating students who weren’t adequately prepared for modern jobs or any kind of higher education.

Then, however, the nation was swept by a form of paranoia that, as far as I can tell, came mostly from essentially anti-intellectual Tea Party factions. They somehow see Common Core as some kind of monstrous plot designed to take away local control. They also saw Common Core as somehow giving confidential information about our kids to the federal government.

As a side note, I find it fascinating that back during the Cold War, people worried about subversives undermining our government. Today, they seem to believe Washington itself is the enemy. In fact, the “enemy” is whatever stands in the way of our kids having a successful and prosperous future.

The Common Core standards may not be perfect, but they are far better than what had existed in most places and at least 33 states. Forty-four states already have adopted them, in whole or in part. Michigan had done so as well, till the legislature put a freeze on that several months ago.

Yesterday, however, there was some good news. The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to move forward with Common Core standards. Even most Republicans voted yes.

The logjam ended after school board president Austin met with key legislators, including Tim Kelly, a former education policy advisor who chaired the subcommittee that looked at Common Core. Both Kelly and Austin deserve considerable credit for negotiation and common sense. 

Yet we aren’t out of the woods yet. The bill still has to be approved by the state Senate, which is more dominated by the extreme right than is the House. These are the folks, remember, who cost Michigan more than $600 million purely out of spite a few weeks ago when they refused to give Medicaid expansion immediate effect.

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said his body would take Common Core up in its own sweet time, and added that it wasn’t on his list of priorities. “We are going to do our job in the way we see fit,” he told a reporter. Perhaps it might help of enough citizens told him that when it came to priorities, quality education standards are at the top of theirs. 

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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