Common Core State Standards: “Academic Child Abuse” or Common Sense?

Mar 13, 2013

How can so called education “experts” be so far apart on the issue of common core state standards (CCSS) and whether they are the right approach for our children? One such expert (and former colleague of mine at the U.S. Department of Education), Bill Evers, was quoted last week at a hearing before the Missouri legislature calling CCSS “academic child abuse”, arguing the standards will “ruin the life chances, the business prospects, and the employment prospects of Missouri’s children in the worldwide economy.”

However, just one month ago, an open letter from 73 leaders of major corporations and organizations representing employers appeared in the New York Times in support of CCSS stating, “We support these new, tougher academic standards that are currently being rolled out in classrooms across the country. These standards will better prepare students for college and the workplace, something of critical importance to the nation’s employers. The changes now under way in America’s schools hold great promise for creating a more highly skilled workforce that is better equipped to meet the needs of local, state and national economies.”

Personally, I’ll take the word of the job creators in this country when it comes to business and employment prospects of future workers. But it’s worth examining the rhetoric coming out of the opposition.

There is a certain contingent that believes CCSS is an Obama administration-driven initiative and, for that reason alone, is vehemently opposed to the federal “overreach.” For example, in recent weeks bills have been introduced in the Alabama state house to repeal CCSS claiming that the standards are a federal mandate and the Obama administration is dictating curriculum content. It’s true the administration has made no secret of their support for CCSS; however, it has been a state-led process driven by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers all along.

It’s clear that rhetoric claiming an Obama-administration tie resonates. Therefore, the Alabama business community joined together to dismiss those claims and offer the business case for CCSS. In a joint letter to the Legislature, the presidents of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, the Birmingham Business Alliance, the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce urged lawmakers to oppose bills that would repeal the standards.

According to the presidents, businesses locate and expand in areas where they can find educated workers and where their employees can access quality education. “Alabama is competing with the rest of the nation and the world for aerospace, automotive, biotech, information technology, and other high-growth industries, and our graduates must be able to perform as well or better than those in other states and countries," they wrote.

And then there are those that argue the standards are NOT as rigorous as current state standards and by adopting CCSS, students in those states will suffer. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been examining state standards for more than a decade and has assessed the CCSS as well. In their analysis of the pre-common core state standards, they found just 3 states whose English language arts standards were clearly superior to the CCSS (Indiana, California, and the District of Columbia) and no states whose math standards were clearly superior. For the vast majority of states, CCSS are by far more advanced and more rigorous than what currently exists for students.

Given what is clearly a concerted effort by some national organizations to attempt to roll back CCSS state-by-state, the business community’s voice is critical. In states like Alabama, Indiana, and Missouri, business leaders are fighting hard to resist such opposition. They, like the leaders of Intel, Microsoft, Dow Chemical, GE, State Farm, Boeing, and Accenture – all signatories to the NYT letter – are committed to the implementation of CCSS because they recognize the value in clear, consistent standards across states aligned to college and career. 

The business community understands the implications for its future workers, for the states’ economies, and our competitiveness as a nation. Let’s set the inflammatory rhetoric aside and do what’s best for our children and our economy.

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