In this age of political polarization, it’s increasingly rare to find an issue that can bridge party lines and unite people of all ideological stripes.
When such an issue does come along, it sets the stage for the kind of meaningful political change that would otherwise, in different times, be impossible. Common Core education standards have emerged from the shadows of obscurity and have become such an issue.
Common Core standards originated in the same way that all government regulations come about: out of fear. For decades we have been told that our children are lagging behind those in other countries, that they cannot compete globally, and that their very futures are in danger unless government steps in and fixes the broken school system.
Parents were understandably rattled by this kind of fear-mongering, and the resulting response has led to such conclusively failed programs as Head Start and No Child Left Behind. When these programs failed to yield the promised results, Common Core was proffered as a solution. Desperation and a feeling of helplessness led many parents to agree - at least until they saw the actual results.
Once the education standards began actually affecting local schools, realization began to set in, followed by dismay, and then anger.
The kinds of curricula resulting from Common Core’s one-size-fits-all mandates were counterintuitive, confusing, and upsetting to children. Recognition of these problems led moderate Republicans - such as Govs. Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal - who initially agreed with the aim of the standards to recant their support.
Even progressives, who tend to support the federal government’s involvement in education, began to recoil as they saw the distress caused to their children. Comedian Louis C.K. made headlines when he used his Twitter feed to denounce the standards for making his kids cry.
Amy Lawson, a fifth-grade teacher at Silver Lake Elementary School in Middletown, Del., helps student Melody Fritz with an English language arts lesson Oct. 1, 2013. Silver Lake has begun implementing the national Common Core State Standards for academics. Remembering the plot of a short story is no longer good enough in Lawson’s fifth-grade classroom. Now, students are being asked to think more critically -- what, for example, might a character say in an email to a friend. "It’s hard. But you can handle this," Lawson tells them. Welcome to a classroom using the Common Core State Standards, one of the most politicized and misunderstood changes in education for students and their teachers in grades kindergarten through high school. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)
Common Core has affected not just parents and students. Teachers are increasingly discovering that Common Core negatively impacts their ability to do their jobs. As a result, several of the nation’s largest teacher’s unions have now come out against the standards, calling their implementation “completely botched.” The American Federation of Teachers is also proposing a resolution to reject Common Core standards altogether.
In the face of widespread opposition, even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has walked back his support of the program.
“I’m just a big proponent of high standards,” he said, admitting that he would not object to states withdrawing from Common Core. “Whether they’re common or not is kind of secondary.”
It has even been pointed out that the tests aligned with Common Core standards are so difficult that schools have starting curving the results to such a degree that random guessing will result in a passing grade, defeating the whole point of stricter standards.
There’s nothing like an abject policy failure that harms children to unite Americans.
As such, the role of the federal government in education policy is certain to be a key issue in upcoming elections, both in November of this year, and especially in the presidential election in 2016. Are we going to commit to a top-down, out of touch bureaucracy to manage the lives of our children, or are we going to give parents the right to decide what is best, whether it be public, private, charter, or home schools?
Does it really, as Hillary Clinton has written, “take a village” to raise our children, or does it just take individual empowerment and freedom of choice?
It’s a national conversation we need to have, which is why FreedomWorks has partnered with Glenn Beck to present “We Will Not Conform,” a strategy session to educate parents and activists on how to defeat Common Core standards, to be held in Dallas, Texas, and broadcast in theaters nationwide on July 22 and July 29.
The future of Common Core has broad implications for the direction of American education. Do we let parents decide, or does government know better? The answer may very well determine the next president of the United States.
Matt Kibbe is the President of FreedomWorks for America and author of the New York Times bestseller, Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff. Follow Matt on Twitter @MKibbe
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