Charlie Harper: Common Core misinfo abounds

February 11, 2014 

The battles over public policy are difficult ones these days. Too often, there is great difficulty to get the public to engage. Decisions are then left to the elected leaders and the relatively small number of insiders and interest groups with a direct stake in the policy change. It is frankly difficult to get the general public to invest their time learning about issues over which they feel they will ultimately have little personal influence or impact.

The current hot policy topic in education is that of Common Core standards. The problem with this policy discussion isn't so much the lack of engagement, but that the opposition has been manufactured on false grounds. As such, those trying to learn about this issue are as likely to find misleading or incorrect information about Common Core as they are to educate themselves.

As such, rational debate over concerns with Common Core is lacking. In its place has been a campaign of misinformation that at times borders on hysteria.

To understand what Common Core is, it's first important to understand what it is not. Common Core is not a curriculum. It is instead a set of benchmarks that standardizes what each student should know by the time he or she has completed each grade level in math and language arts. The curriculum - what is taught and how - remains up to states and local school systems to design and implement.

The local control issue is key because the greatest area of misinformation spread on this topic is how Common Core began. Despite it having deep origins with Georgia's school curriculum redesign with our standards used as a template when states voluntarily agreed to adopt them nationwide, many opponents want you to believe that Common Core was designed by the Obama administration as part of a federal takeover of education.

You can find this claim on a blog called Education News which says "Common Core is federally led education introduced in the Obama administration's 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ("stimulus package") through a contest called Race to the Top (RTTT)." Depending on your point of view, that's somewhere between a great distortion and a complete untruth.

The link of Common Core standards to Race to the Top federal education dollars is troubling, as Common Core was initiated by states as a voluntary initiative to avoid the federal government's imposition of national standards. To say, however, that the standards are "federally led" or that the Obama administration introduced these standards moves this statement into the provably untrue category.

Common Core was born out of the idea that states should equate what students learn across grade levels. The quarterback of the effort wasn't President Obama, but was none other than then-Gov. Sonny Perdue. It was his work with the National Governors Association that began the effort.

States like Georgia with large military bases have experienced students regularly transferring in and out. They were finding that subjects and concepts are taught at different times and in different grades, putting these transferring students at a great disadvantage.

Perdue remains supportive of Common Core, and rejects that it is tantamount to a federal takeover. He recently told Peach Pundit's Mike Hassinger, "This was always a voluntary agreement among states who believed that it made more sense as a 'vaccination' against federal involvement in education. More than a few of the governors involved, quite frankly, had been embarrassed by the No Child Left Behind Act. For the federal government to say 'you're not doing enough to help your students achieve' was involvement that caught some governors in a bad way."

And Perdue's feelings about the opposition? "From a partisan point of view, the endorsement of Common Core by the federal Secretary of Education and President Obama have done more to damage Common Core than anything else. I never heard any opposition or suspicion of Common Core until there was support from the President and his administration."

Georgia adopted Common Core standards in 2010, which were largely based Georgia's curriculum redesign that began in 2003. As with any transition, there are always criticisms, and many of them are valid.

What is invalid, however, is the basis that Common Core is a creation of President Obama so that he could have a federal takeover of education. If your source of information where you find additional information about Common Core repeats this claim, you should probably consider the rest of any information suspect.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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