Friday, Apr 27, 2018
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Stick with Common Core

State lawmakers’ effort to dump high standards for student skills and knowledge is about politics, not education


Toledo Public Schools has adopted the Common Core standards.

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Ohio lawmakers can’t honestly say they haven’t heard the facts about the current status of Common Core, which is about to take effect in the state’s public schools. Now that they have, legislators should affirm the national — not federal — standards for improving our students’ performance in math and English, or at least leave the standards alone.

Or the Republican-controlled General Assembly can vote to repeal Common Core. Doing so would amount to partisan election-year pandering to the paranoid fantasies of extremists who equate an essential effort to upgrade Ohio’s schools with a dark and sinister conspiracy involving President Obama, Bill Gates, the United Nations, and, for all we know, black helicopters.

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House members met last week to take testimony on the Common Core repeal bill. It has the support of House GOP leaders, who are rigging the legislative process to improve its prospects of passage.

(Aside: Lawmakers considered the discussion of Common Core repeal to be of sufficient urgency to interrupt their summer vacations/​re-election campaigns. Prompt legislative help to clean up Lake Erie? You’re on your own, Toledo.)

During the hearings, lawmakers were reminded yet again that Common Core is not a federal takeover of education — it is not a federal program at all. State governors and schools superintendents of both parties initiated the effort, with the enthusiastic support of private employers across the country. Ohio is one of 45 states that adopted the standards voluntarily; three states have since repealed them.

Lawmakers were told that the standards are just that — benchmarks for the skills and knowledge that American students are expected to achieve in every grade. The standards are limited to math and English; they in no way represent ideological or political indoctrination. Nor do the standards provide an excuse for intrusion into students’ private lives.

Standards are not curriculum: Each local school district has — and, under Ohio law, must have — developed its own ways of teaching to enable its students to meet the basic standards; that effort has been considerable. Common Core’s emphasis is on thinking, understanding, reading, and writing over rote memorization and filling in bubbles on test sheets.

All schools can, and should seek to, exceed the minimum standards in their instruction. Advocates of repealing the standards in Ohio would replace them, at least for now, with pre-Common Core standards developed — and since abandoned — by Massachusetts.

Washington gives states money to create tests pegged to the Common Core standards, and incentives to keep the standards in place. That’s the extent of federal involvement.

Two education policy experts, Paolo DeMaria and Susan Bodary of Education First, offered testimony at the House hearings to rebut the preposterous myths that opponents have spun around Common Core. They noted that they were testifying on behalf of the Ohio Business Roundtable; state employers are among the staunchest supporters of the classroom standards.

They reiterated the essential point of Common Core: The improved academic performance the standards will stimulate will prepare Ohio students to be better workers and citizens. That will strengthen the state’s economy, job climate, and ability to compete globally.

The problems with Common Core that have emerged so far have more to do with the execution of the standards than their definition. School districts and teachers will need time, support, flexibility, and training to adjust to the standards. Neither the standards nor the tests based on them should become bludgeons to punish districts or teachers financially.

The mediocre performance of many Ohio public school students on standardized tests and the extensive remedial education required in state universities and colleges suggest the need for more-rigorous academic standards. Common Core is a vital element of that effort.

If Common Core can be strengthened, lawmakers have a valid role in that process. But the repeal bill is more of a cynical attempt by its legislative sponsors to change the subject from their own refusal to support public education adequately. They have repeatedly slashed state aid to schools in recent years to help pay for tax cuts for the richest Ohioans.

Gov. John Kasich could end this nonsense immediately by making clear — as he has done before — that he would veto any bill lawmakers send him repealing Common Core. That the governor hasn’t done so this time should give voters something else to keep in mind as the countdown to the November election continues.

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