The Herald Bulletin

August 10, 2013

Editorial: If not Common Core, then another policy just as rigorous

— Everyone's a critic, as they say. But it's one thing to criticize a book or a movie and another to weigh in on education issues and policies that are much more serious. Whoever does needs to know what they are talking about.

There is a current debate going on in the legislature concerning Common Core, the educational standards to which Indiana and nearly all other states have signed on. Common Core was the result of rigorous studies into what students needed in math and reading and the best way to go about teaching the subjects.

Common Core got its start in 2009, when the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers got together to draft voluntary national standards in math and reading. Voluntary is a key word, but all but four states — Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia — signed on. The standards were a state cooperative effort to make sure all students were learning what was necessary to be ready for college or the work force.

There was really no controversy at that time. Common Core was a set of educational standards, not a curriculum. There was testing to go along with it as is the case now. Some of the standards were based on international benchmarks from countries such as South Korea and Finland, whose students lead the US in math and reading scores.

Enter President Obama. His administration backed Common Core, and tied the new standards to federal grants. Obama, through his education secretary Arne Duncan, encouraged adoption of Common Core so states could get waivers from the No Child Left behind law, which is what Indiana did.

Once the president got involved, though, his critics became vocal about Common Core, calling it the death of local control over education and calling the standards a federal mandate that were drawn up by bureaucrats in Washington, which is completely untrue.

A dialogue on such policies is a good thing, but only if both sides bring intelligent support or criticism to the table, based on facts and not emotion, such as blanket statements about a federal takeover of education. Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor and Duncan critic, attacked the standards as not being field tested. OK, that can be discussed where paranoia about federal takeover of education cannot.

Indiana is considering reversing its acceptance of Common Core. That is the state's prerogative. But the legislature should base that on intelligent decisions about Common Core's shortcomings. The state will also need to come up with a rigorous system of standards that will keep Indiana students on a par with their counterparts all over the nation.

Indiana's students are too important to be caught up in a game of political football. Whatever happens with Common Core in Indiana, what students learn should be the top priority.