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Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 8/23/2014

COMMENTARY

Conservative grandstanding hijacks Common Core debate

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Johanek Johanek
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State Rep. Andy Thompson (R., Marietta) floated a bill that would repeal Common Core in Ohio, prohibit the state Board of Education from using assessments based on the standards, and outlaw data collection on students except for limited administrative purposes. The bill stalled.

Now he and Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) are at it again. They have renewed efforts to block the new education standards.

The legislation is a long shot. But growing Tea Party opposition to the standards might improve its odds.

Mr. Huffman and Mr. Thompson, who held hearings on their measure this week, aim to fast-track their bill through the House rules committee.

They claim Ohio made a mistake when it signed on to Common Core four years ago. They portray the changes adopted by 45 states, including Ohio, as a federal conspiracy to control the classroom.

They’re wrong. But when I spoke with Mr. Thompson last December, he had some valid observations about the standards and the process that led to their adoption.

He complained that the standards were rolled out without much public awareness. He’s right. From the beginning, people were left in the dark about the ramifications of Common Core.

That lack of oversight threatens to undo what states and schools have accomplished with rigorous standards guiding curriculum improvements. The public is poorly informed about what is taught in the classroom and how it is taught.

The debate is also manipulated with partisan rhetoric to oppose what people don’t understand. That explains much of the belated opposition to a campaign led by states to raise academic achievement with uniform expectations.

Conservatives who capitalize on public uncertainty about Common Core are aggressively reframing the issue as a federal takeover of education. It is not, but crusaders are exploiting fear to advance agendas unrelated to strengthening schools. They have reduced Common Core to government overreach.

Opponents suggest, as Mr. Thompson does, that because federal money fueled development of Common Core, Big Brother assumed the upper hand in local decisions. Common Core is less about injecting rigor into student learning and more about intrusive government, they say.

Conservative momentum in Ohio and other states to scrap the standards, presumably forced on schools by federal fiat, is gaining traction. States-rights devotees have combined anti-big-government dogma with half-truths and ignorance to derail standards that were crafted, revised, reviewed, and initiated by states.

Mr. Thompson told me Common Core is “one-size-fits-all education dictated by federal and corporate dollars.” He’s correct that federal Race to the Top money was an incentive for states to sign on to Common Core.

Those with a financial stake in education do attempt to influence policy. Companies that lobby for standardized tests are for-profit players in education.

Money may have been the impetus for educational reform, but the collaboration among scores of state and local sectors across the country produced changes in teaching and testing.

Educators, businesses, community leaders, and others weighed in on Common Core. The resulting math and English standards developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers are used in many Ohio schools.

The emphasis is on critical thinking and deeper understanding over memorization and regurgitation. Implementation has had its problems.

New online testing, set to begin this fall, requires funding. Districts that constructed curricula to satisfy Common Core standards face challenges in meeting new thresholds of learning.

Revisions in procedures, goals, evaluations, and testing are ongoing. But general consensus about the standards remains positive.

Schools recognize that students need better preparation for the 21st century. Mr. Thompson doubts the pedagogical value of Common Core and is driven to replace it with something not yet clear.

I had hoped Mr. Thompson’s initial legislation might have sparked meaningful conversation about the motives, merit, and money behind the educational changes Ohio students, parents, and teachers are experiencing. But it appears he’s more interested in playing to his conservative base than engaging in debate.

This time he’s bypassing the House Education Committee — the chairman supports Common Core — to set up a Tea Party showdown.

I wished him luck once to raise awareness about the standards. Not to grandstand at education’s expense.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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