Even as states tumble over one another—eight as of yesterday—to replace their crummy school standards (in reading and math) with the solid new “common core” education standards, such critics say the sky is falling. Because they have trouble denying—that word again—that the new standards have considerable merit, they warn of two perils that, they insist, lurk just over the horizon: either the federal government will take over (and mandate) this state-led (and voluntary) initiative and/or the loopiest of educationists will gradually gain control over it and dumb it down.
Tis true, even paranoids have enemies, and it’s theoretically possible that such things could one day happen. This I do not deny. My Fordham colleagues and I are in the midst of a project designed to avert those troubling but unlikely outcomes by devising a workable governance structure for the “common core” that keeps it firmly in state—and lay—hands over the long run.
The far greater threat that America faces, however, is continued educational mediocrity and an ill-trained citizenry in a shrinking, globalizing and ever more competitive world, one where nearly all our rivals have (among other things) national education standards and tests. This is no theoretical problem. It’s a clear and present danger.
Nobody in his right mind claims that standards alone will turn this around. They merely set the destination by prescribing what our kids should know and be able to do (in two core subjects only) at various stages of their K-12 education. Actually reaching that destination calls for many other changes in state capitals, local school systems and individual classrooms. It’s a hugely ambitious undertaking and I doubt that every state claiming to adopt the “common core” will then bestir itself to do the needful to make it real.
Still and all, it’s better to aim high than low and that’s what the common core does—and what most states today fail to do. McCluskey & Co. don’t exactly deny that. It’s just that their paranoia causes them to deny all possible solutions to the problem.