One of candidate Donald Trump’s biggest applause lines when campaigning was his promise to end the Common Core national K through 12 standards. For the first time in any presidential campaign, an education issue claimed a place of importance with grassroots citizens. What was it about Common Core that so excited the passions of ordinary Americans that they demanded answers in a national campaign? And what are the implications for American education?
There’s been some good writing on Common Core—e.g. by Richard Reinsch on this site and by my ex-colleague Rick Hess in National Affairs. And there’s been a lot of hyperventilation over it, mostly in connection with de facto presidential contender Jeb Bush’s “doubling down” on his support for Common Core: can he really be a conservative? Isn’t Common Core a liberal conspiracy, hatched in D.C. to take over local schools? Etc. What’s been missing is the voice of a true education expert: me.
In her 2003 book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi demonstrated how the written word trumps tyranny. Nafisi interwove sometimes harrowing reminiscences of the Islamic Republic of Iran before and after the 1979 revolution with discussions of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Henry James’s Daisy Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. These and many other works were mined for their poetry of expression and their characters’ defiance.
Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard said recently that the Common Core state standards will ultimately be nothing more than another pile of ashes on the smoldering fire of national education reform. His excellent article reviewed the long and sorry history of such efforts, detailing how the Common Core came to replace George W. Bush’s vaunted (and then hated) No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, itself an effort to replace President Clinton’s Goals 2000, which superceded, that’s right, George H.W. Bush’s America 2000.
Published over a decade ago, Josiah Bunting III’s An Education for Our Time presents the plan of dying, septuagenarian billionaire John Adams, a descendant of those Adamses, for a new institution of higher learning to be built in eastern Wyoming. The broad goal is to provide a unique liberal education. In addition to studying classics, serving abroad, and mastering the outdoors, and classical and modern foreign language requirements, the College will also edify the character of its students through emulation by reading great biographies and engaging in deep historical learning that will form 1/3 of the curriculum.
There is no tuition. The school will operate as best it can free of any regulations from federal or state governments. SAT scores will not be considered for admissions. Grades will matter, but of greatest significance is character, or rather, the committees in each state that evaluate applicants will look for those young men and women who have demonstrated independence by taking risks under difficult circumstances. By this, Adams wants students who have been willing to pursue the good in the face of mockery.
In 2006, resident education policy expert at the D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Rick Hess wrote in his book Common Sense School Reform about a conversation he had with a school leader: I told him that the first steps in real improvement had little to do with instruction and a lot to do with sensible management… and that no amount of new spending, professional development, or instructional refinement would change that…. These truths went overlooked year after year because reformers kept approaching school improvement as a matter of educational expertise rather than common sense. Common Sense School Reform draws broadly on the…
The loss of great literature in the schools and its replacement with something that is manifestly not great—and is meant in fact to put an end to the very idea of greatness—is no academic matter. As Plato taught us long ago, whoever controls the stories, what today we call “the narrative,” of any society, will inevitably control the society. If we give up our stories, we lose our surest means of teaching young people what is truly good and true and beautiful; we lose the best way of teaching them how to be human. Should we give that up because self-appointed educational experts apparently don’t know how to talk about a great book when it is put in front of them?
Editor’s Note: Another installation in a series of posts evaluating the question: Has Indiana departed from the Common Core State Standards and its attempt to nationalize education in America?
Having been the first state to leave the Common Core, the final draft of Indiana’s new K-12 content standards has been published and it will be brought to the State Board of Education on April 28 – ten days from now – for the final vote. Some reviews of this draft have been already published (e.g., here, here and here) but they focused mostly on the English and Language Arts (ELA) piece. I will focus on its mathematics and I will start with some general observations.
The drafting was done under a serious time pressure. There were only 12 weeks allocated for the standards-writing process that typically takes many months or even years. The writing panels should be commended for significant improvement of its early drafts, yet – as we shall see shortly — the final result is far from satisfying for Indiana, whose prior (pre Common Core) standards were highly praised as the best in the nation.
Indiana’s “new” English Standards indicate that it will remain under the thumb of Common Core.
For four years now, the nation has been told how rigorous the Common Core English Standards are and how they are going to lead to “college and career readiness”: this to be done chiefly by taking great literature out of English classes and replacing it with utterly forgettable “informational texts.” For the past month or so, we in Indiana, having pulled out of Common Core, have been told by the state educational establishment that Indiana’s “new” college-and-career-readiness standards will not be an echo of Common Core but instead will be much more rigorous than Common Core. They will be standards written by Hoosiers for Hoosiers. Well, the new draft standards released just Wednesday are in fact an echo of Common Core as anyone who is able to hold two documents side by side can clearly see.