Count us as among those surprised and alarmed by the Republican National Committee’s ill-considered decision to adopt a resolution decrying the Common Core standards as a “nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.” There’s little doubt that this action will bestow a degree of legitimacy upon the anti-standards coalition—and put pressure on Republican governors and legislators to fall in line.
Which is something approaching tragedy. It was Republicans, even conservatives, who first blazed the trail toward higher standards and rigorous accountability in education—the likes of Ronald Reagan, Bill Bennett, Lamar Alexander, and Jeb Bush. To cede this ground to Democrats is an enormous policy and political mistake.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Common Core standards are worth supporting because they’re educationally solid. They are rigorous, they are traditional—one might even say they are “conservative.” They expect students to know their math facts, to read the nation’s founding documents, and to evaluate evidence and come to independent judgments. In all of these ways, they are miles better than three-quarters of the state standards they replaced—standards that hardly deserved the name and that often pushed the left-wing drivel that Common Core haters say they abhor.
No, they’re not perfect. They can be undermined by curriculum directors who assign teeny-bopper romances, sports bios, and car-repair manuals instead of the good stuff. (So can every single set of state standards in the land.) And yes, the Obama administration coerced states to adopt Common Core standards via the lure of Race to the Top dollars. Pass a resolution, as ALEC did, expressing outrage at that.
Get it off your chest, but then get on with the serious business of making America’s schools competitive for the twenty-first century. The really troubling part of the RNC resolution, in fact, is not its justifiable outrage at the Obama administration’s role in the Common Core; it’s the RNC’s inane argument against standards-based reform writ large, with its alleged goal of “conforming American students to uniform (‘one size fits all’) achievement goals,” and to “standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived ‘normal.’”
Republicans used to stand for standards. We’re confident that once GOP governors and legislators have a chance to give this language a look, they will again.