Into reverse: Common Core finds itself squeezed between two sets of prejudices

header-hoover-institution-fellows1-1The Economist

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“IT’S now been five years since Common Core was adopted,” said Chris Christie on May 28th, “and the truth is that it’s simply not working.” Mr Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor and a possible presidential candidate, thinks Common Core, the first set of national standards in maths and reading, has created problems in classrooms instead of solving them. But as recently as two years ago he thought it was a good idea.

Common Core allows pupils in different states to be measured against each other. Until No Child Left Behind, an education act signed by George W. Bush that required states to test pupils annually, only 19 did so. Now they all must.

When the standards were introduced in 2010 they had broad and bipartisan approval. Forty-five states and Washington, DC eventually signed on (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia opted out, and Minnesota adopted only the English standards). The White House did not create Common Core’s curriculum, leaving that to each state. But conservatives spied a federal power grab, and the wilder among them discern a Washington plot to fill young minds with socialist, atheist and possibly gay propaganda.

States began to opt out. Indiana was the first, in March 2014. Other right-leaning states followed. Florida and Arizona merely rebranded Common Core, keeping much of the content but changing the inflaming name. This is probably what Mr Christie will do, despite his remarks.

He is not alone in backtracking. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, says he wants to replace the standards. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s governor, was also a Common Core fan, but now alleges in a lawsuit that the Department of Education used federal grants as bribes to persuade states to adopt the standards. Both men are seeking, or toying with seeking, the Republican nomination. Two others on the list, Jeb Bush in Florida and John Kasich in Ohio, still strongly support the principle of common standards and testing; but the Pew Research Centre has found that 61% of conservatives tend to agree with the sentiment once tweeted by Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, another Republican hopeful: “Kill Common Core. Restore Common Sense.”

Common Core is also being squeezed from the left, where it is seen as part of a conservative drive to undermine teachers and their unions by continuous, unfair, testing. The Democratic Party in Washington state has condemned Common Core, and Randi Weingarten, head of the second-biggest teachers’ union, has said the standards must be “guides, not straitjackets.” Between these two ideological poles, it is a wonder America can improve its public schools at all.

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