GUEST EDITORIAL: Common Core promotes mediocrity

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Scott DesJarlais

Folks across my district universally support providing their children with a good education.

Educating our children strengthens our communities, creates and supports jobs, and boosts our economic competitiveness in the global market and at home. As long as parents, teachers, administrators and other state and local actors are offered the ability to hold their educational systems accountable, our schools will be robust and our children will thrive.

Unfortunately, ongoing actions by President Barack Obama are threatening to take over what we teach our kids through the Common Core program.

Common Core began as a vision by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007 to bring about uniform American standards to schools.

After pledging $60 million toward the goal, these groups worked with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to develop and implement these standards. They found a strong ally in Obama.

Understanding that implementation would be unattainable without the buy-in of state legislatures, Obama and his allies saw in the economic downturn an opportunity.

Using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the stimulus bill, as a vehicle, the administration effectively tied Race to the Top money for schools to adoption of a specific set of standards that were functionally equivalent to Common Core.

The worst part about this coercion is that the states never had a chance to see the standards before agreeing to the plans.

Now, some may argue that even if the process of implementing Common Core standards was questionable, these requirements are strong and will enhance our kids’ education and better assist them in becoming college and career ready. However, this is not the case.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Common Core proponent, acknowledges that Tennessee’s previous English standards were stronger than what is being proposed under Common Core.

And while Tennessee’s previous math standards fell just below, Common Core teachings have been called into question by many renowned professors of mathematics, including one who served on its validation board.

The standards were so lacking that Common Core officials, instead of improving them, simply chose to describe them as “informed by” instead of being “benchmarked” to international standards.

So, not only have states forfeited academic standards to unaccountable federal bureaucrats, they have accepted in return, watered down, internationally uncompetitive standards to which to hold our children.

Not only is this program bad for our kids, it may run afoul of federal statute.

Several pieces of education law, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, prohibit the federal government from exercising any control over curriculum, program of instruction, administration or personnel.

This puts the Obama administration on unsteady legal ground.

Its actions have necessitated states modifying their curriculum, instructional agenda, and even textbooks to prepare their students for the assessments that will go along with Common Core.

One may wonder what can be done to fix Common Core, if not remove our kids from it.

Sadly, because Common Core was designed – and is even owned – by Washington, D.C., bureaucrats, state and local actors have little ability to amend it. This makes the possibility of fixing Common Core complicated at best, if not structurally impossible.

However, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, on which I serve, has diligently worked to bring back local control to ensure that those closest to our kids – their parents, teachers and administrators – have the biggest say in how we choose to educate them.

Just this week, I was happy to vote in favor of the Student Success Act, which would repeal No Child Left Behind and empower communities to fix our broken education system.

I was also happy to co-sponsor an amendment, introduced by U.S. Reps. Martha Roby and Todd Rokita, to prohibit the federal government from influencing or coercing state participation in specific education programs, standards, or curriculums - effectively gutting Common Core. This provision was also included in the Student Success Act.

While the goal of holding our children to high standards of education is a good one, Common Core is bad policy, implemented unfairly, that achieves mediocrity at the expense of states’ sovereignty and local control.

If we are to fix our broken education system, we must do it by including, not excluding, those closest to our kids in the process, and I sincerely hope that the Obama administration and the U.S. Senate will join me in this effort.

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Barack Obama, Common Core, Congress, Department of Education, Education, General Assembly, Scott DesJarlais, Tennessee
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