For no current-affairs commentator do I have greater respect than Peggy Noonan, whose sagacity, common sense, plain-spokenness, and “big picture” view of things are as welcome—and rare—as the clarity and persuasiveness of her prose.
When it comes to the Common Core State Standards, however, she’s only about 60 percent right.
She’s right that the architects and promoters of these standards had—and have—the best of intentions, both with respect to millions of kids who now receive a mediocre-to-dismal education and to the long-term vitality and competitiveness of the nation itself.
She’s right that the “proponents’ overall objective—to get schools teaching more necessary and important things, and to encourage intellectual coherence in what is taught—is not bad, but good.”
She’s right that, as with every ambitious effort to reform every large, complex system in the history of the world, those proponents—I’m one of them—underestimated the implementation challenges.
She’s right that they—we—haven’t always been as thoughtful and respectful as we should regarding the concerns and convictions of parents and others on the ground. (She uses the word “patronizing” and that’s also right, at least in part.)
But she’s not right to offer absolutely no alternative—unless, of course, she’s content with American K–12 education the way it is, which I know she isn’t.
And she’s not right to fail to note that the Common Core would have been—at least at this point in time—a sort of ambitious pilot program involving a smallish number of states that were serious about the implementation challenges, until the feds blundered into the middle of it with “incentives” that turned it into a sort of national piñata. (It does, however, remain absolutely voluntary for states, and I will shed no tears when those that don’t really want to put it into conscientious operation in their schools stop pretending that they will.)
And she’s not right to overlook how much of the pushback that she cites comes not from “harried parents,” but from formidable interest groups that really don’t want to change how they’ve always done things, whether or not such change would be good for kids or the country. I have in mind textbook publishers, test-makers, teacher unions, and political opportunists of every sort, lately and most prominently of the “tea party” persuasion, who will do and say anything to take down Obama and everything he’s for.
Like Peggy, I once worked for President Reagan and, like Peggy, I don’t have much use for today’s incumbent in that honored role. But that’s not supposed to get in the way of changing our clunky education system so that tens of millions of kids learn more. Maybe even more than they and their parents realize they need to learn.
-Chester E. Finn, Jr.
This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Common Core Watch blog.