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Common Core is a distraction now

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 12:01 am

It's not a national curriculum, but it gets us closer to one.

The six Republicans and six Democrats on the legislative study committee looking at the Common Core this summer could not decide whether to recommend keeping, changing or dropping those education standards. So they failed at the task they were given when Common Core implementation was “paused” for a year.

Now House Speaker Brian Bosma has issued his own recommendation: Dump the standards and come up guidelines tailored for Indiana. Given the resistance to Common Core that has been building here and elsewhere in the nation, he’s probably right that moving forward independently is a better option coping with the rancor the standards have fueled.

The very phrase “Common Core” has become a distraction, he says. “It is the only thing that approaches the phrase ‘Obamacare’ with concern and violent reaction around the state.”

That gets at one of Common Core’s main problems, initially identified by tea party types and other conservatives, then picked up by parents and some educators. The standards are so identified with the federal government that some started calling them Obamacore after the president strongly endorsed them.

The criticism isn’t quite fair. The standards were established by governors and state school chiefs to help students – no matter which state they lived in – reach certain education benchmarks by the time they reached a specific grade level. Third-graders, The Associated Press cites as an example, should be able to find the perimeter of a figure. A fifth-grader should be able to compare and contrast two characters from a story. Indiana became one of the earliest adopters among the 45 states now using Common Core, based on the recommendations of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

But even though the federal government didn’t originate Common Core, it has certainly muscled in, tying much of the money it hands out to how schools perform under the standards. It’s not a national curriculum exactly, but it’s easy to see how it moves us farther down to the road to one. That’s the real issue, or at least it should be: Are national standards, which will lead to a national curriculum, the right way to go, or would it be better to cultivate more state and local control of education?

Bosma said one thing that rings especially true: Whatever we adopt must be compatible with the ACT and the SAT tests that college-bound students must take. That need to accommodate reality hints at a possible way to go: Why does it have to be either-or – state standards or national ones? Isn’t it possible to start with the national standards and adapt them to specific Hoosier needs?