Common core standards, an attempt by big government to take over the minds of our children, or the best chance our children have to be competitive in a global society, has been the subject of much debate lately. The standards focus on the cognitive skills of children and emphasize teaching depth over breadth. Opponents scream the standards are a federally funded program, and the truth is the federal government has incentivized states to adopt the standards through such programs as Race to the Top funding and the No Child Left behind waiver process. However, the argument that we should oppose common core standards because it is being funded by the federal government does not hold water. The fact is that the federal government has been subsidizing education in this country to some extent since the 1950’s. For example, Title I, The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed in 1965 during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, is the most comprehensive federal legislation impacting education ever passed by Congress. Over 56,000 schools in the United States including Mississippi schools accept Title 1 money from the federal government every year. Based on 2011 – 2012 data from the United States Department of Education, 877 schools out of 925 in Mississippi received Title I funding from the federal government to the tune of $193,652,567. This is just an example of federal government subsidies to Mississippi schools, and although I would like to see less government involved in our schools, I have yet to see any Big Brother brainwashing, or anything government related that is overly intrusive other than paperwork. If nothing else, Mississippians should be thankful we live in a country where such support is possible – after all, I see it as putting our tax dollars to good use. Of course, there are those who will disagree, but until we elect people to our state legislature who are willing to fully fund education every year as the law requires, we will always be a state with our hand out begging for whatever support we can find for our children. People need to remember that the Mississippi state legislature has fully funded education only twice since the MAEP formula was adopted in 1997, and both of those years were election years, 2003 and 2007. However, even if a miracle happened and the Mississippi legislature fully funded education, we would still need federal dollars to survive. Face it people, we live in a great state, but economically a very poor state.
Therefore, even though personally I would like to be able to tell the federal government we don’t need your help, so leave us alone, the truth is that in Mississippi we do need the federal government’s help in funding education for our children. This may be hard to swallow for some, but it is not only the truth; it is a fact. It is also an unfortunate fact of life that the truth is not always what we wish it to be, and the truth about Common Core Standards is no different. A person may have a million reasons to oppose Common Core Standards, but the truth is that our children need the standards regardless of opposition that is often founded on what is best for adults rather than what is best for children. As I see it, there are basically ten reasons why people oppose the Common Core Standards:
1. Common Core Standards make some parents, politicians, and teachers uncomfortable. Many teachers, parents, and politicians are intimidated by what they don’t understand or by what they feel challenges the status quo;
2. Common Core Standards make it difficult for parents to help their children with homework; therefore, the standards are not good for children. That is equivalent to a parent telling his or her child that I am not good in math, so you don’t need to be good in math either;
3. Some parents, politicians, and teachers believe Common Core Standards are a federal takeover of education. It is not a federal takeover of education, but for as long as Mississippi has been on the bottom, maybe we need somebody to take over. It should be obvious by now that we don’t know how or don’t have the capacity to pick ourselves up. Sometimes our “ain’t nobody gonna tell us what to do” mentality is an anchor around our necks that holds us firmly to the bottom.
4. Some parents and teachers are happy with the way things have been in the past, and for them the present is fine also. They are content with Mississippi being ranked 51 out of 51 in the nation. Their generation and the generations before them have known only marginal academic success at best, so why should today’s generation be any different? A marginal education was good enough for them, so it should be good enough for their children and grandchildren;
5. Some politicians are afraid of creating a society of critical thinkers who can analyze data and make informed decisions on issues affecting their lives. They cringe at the idea of a Mississippi full of free thinkers who have wrenched themselves free of the puppeteer’s strings;
6. Many in the Tea Party movement look at Common Core Standards as a threat to charter schools and vouchers and their underlying agenda to destroy public schools;
7. Some people fear Common Core Standards cannot deliver what it promises. Their underlying reasoning is that we may be number 51 in the nation, but at least we know where we are and where we will be ten years from now;
8. Some people fear Common Core Standards will develop a nation of anxious robotic children who have been brainwashed by big government. This is just pure nonsense. The government has nothing to do with developing anxious robotic children. That credit belongs to an addiction to cell phones, video games, and countless hours in front of the television;
9. Common Core Standards create a trickle down stress effect: teachers are stressed by teaching more conceptually rather than factually, children are stressed because they have never been required to think on their own, parents are stressed because their child is stressed because he or she is having to work harder for an “A”, and politicians are stressed that they will lose votes because parents are stressed; and
10. Some politicians are afraid that if the implementation of Common Core Standards is successful, they will no longer have teachers to belittle and use as their whipping boy. If they can no longer bash teachers, who will they be able to intimidate and rail against for the poor state of affairs in the state? If they can’t demean the teaching profession, how will they justify lobbying to take away the few fringe benefits teachers have such as retirement and insurance. Heck, they may even be forced to honor the law and fully fund education.
Let’s be real about the opposition to common core. The opposition as illustrated above is about adult discomfort with Common Core Standards. The opposition has little to do with what is best for kids. Opponents to Common Core can scream all they want about it not being good for children, but the bottom line is Common Core scares them, not their children. Common Core takes adults out of their comfort zones and unfortunately that plays readily into the hands of adult paranoia. Face it, the three major reasons some people want to get rid of Common Core Standards is based on adult discomfort with something new, adult insecurities, and adult paranoia. It is not about what is best for kids, but rather what is best for adults.
However, to be fair, the proponents of Common Core Standards have done their fair share of adding coals to the fires of opposition. It is a fact that many parents and teachers are scared of the Common Core Standards, and realistically, why shouldn’t they be? Teachers often feel as if they are caught in the cross-hairs of the controversy, and they are. They have every right to be stressed and even angry when their state legislature continually labels them as unprofessional and basically inept at their jobs, many parents blame them exclusively for the failures of their children, and the public in general has little or no respect for them as professionals. Likewise, parents are scared. Why? Because for the most part, what they know about Common Core Standards comes from hearsay and misinformation. They are frightened by the unknown, so they cling to what they know even though deep down they may feel change is needed.
You see, a major theme at the core of opposition to Common Core Standards is the lack of information. Opponents claim that the public has not been adequately informed, and after taking a step back and looking at the implementation of Common Core Standards over the past two and a half years, I am inclined to agree with them. Yes, schools began to tell parents and the public at least three years ago that Common Core Standards were coming, but few parents and the public in general had little idea as to what a standard was much less what was meant by Common Core Standards. There is no doubt that school districts have tried to reach out to parents by sending home important information regarding the standards in student backpacks, and some of it may have actually made it home to the parents. Give school districts credit; they have organized and held community meetings touting to answer parent questions; however, many parents have left these meetings feeling even more confused than ever since many felt the questions were closely censored or maybe even planted. School districts have also posted relevant information about the standards on their websites. This sounds like a good idea except that many teachers and administrators themselves are confused by the information contained on these websites, so how can parents with limited educational knowledge be expected to clearly understand the information? Yes, schools have done all these things and probably more, but the one thing they have failed to do is adequately answer in a straight forward manner questions that parents still have after attending the meetings or reading through the information provided.
When people and especially parents who are concerned about their most important asset, their children, cannot get their questions answered by the people who are supposed to know, they tend to migrate to the conspiracy theorists, agenda driven politicians, and street hearsay. When their questions are not answered they begin to wonder why? What is the school district trying to cover up? When they attend meetings to find answers and leave feeling they have been talked down to and made to feel inadequate as a parent, they become frustrated and anger begins to grow. When they dare debate the issue, and they are met with condescending voices of assurance that everything will be all right if they just have faith, they leave disgusted and looking for answers elsewhere, and you can bet there is someone lurking in the shadows with an answer that under less stress and frustration parents would recognize as clearly questionable if not downright ridiculous. But, when you are hungry, you become willing to ingest just about anything regardless of how it tastes. The bottom line is parents are entitled to answers to their questions, so they can formulate an informed opinion rather than develop an opinion that is steeped in misinformation.
In closing, I stand behind the implementation of Common Core Standards as being what is best for children, but I also believe the only way to put to rest some of the opposition is to embrace the debate and provide the answers opponents are seeking. I do believe that the vast majority of people, especially teachers, are in support of the standards, and that there are many others who are ready to support the standards if they can be assured they will not have to walk the journey alone. It is time to move Mississippi forward, and Common Core Standards can help us do that. I am ready for the children in Mississippi to have the same opportunities to make a wage comparable to what the same job pays in other states. I am ready for children in Mississippi to be able to stand with their heads high among the nation’s elite. I am ready for Mississippi to shine. It is time Mississippians stopped settling for less when we are capable of so much more.
©Jack Linton, January 12, 2014