By Joe Luppino-Esposito
Originally posted by State Budget Solutions on October 1, 2013
The fight over Common Core State Standards started quietly but has become increasingly intense as states make decisions regarding its implementation and school districts address the concerns of parents. The debate has taken harsh turn recently, with displeasure with the program that aims to make educational standards consist across states for grades K-12 coming out in a range of ways, from nasty notes from a governor to an arrest for assault.
Maryland, a state where there has been little reported opposition to the plan, jumped into the national spotlight when a parent was arrested at a meeting about the new education standards. Robert Small was forcibly removed from a Common Core forum when he tried to ask a question out of turn. The Maryland State Department of Education asked that parents submit questions in writing, but Small rose to spoke instead. Video of the incident shows that an off-duty police officer providing security for the forum flashed his badge and then grabbed and pushed Small out of the room. Small was charged with disturbing school operations and assault. The charges were dropped after the story hit the news, though prosecutors still believe Small’s arrest was justified.
Meanwhile, the police were not involved in Florida, but Governor Rick Scott took issue with the federal government for encroaching on the Sunshine State’s education system. Scott says Florida schools will still adhere to the standards of the Common Core but the state will leave the testing consortium Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Instead, it will develop its own test. Unlike the several other states that have left the federally-supported testing groups, Scott didn’t cite costs or other implementation issues. Instead, Scott claimed in his letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that the federal government went a step too far in supporting the testing consortia. Scott said, “The federal government, however, has absolutely no constitutional authority to involve itself in the state-level decisions on academic standards and assessments or the curriculum and instruction decisions of our local school boards.”
Scott is only partially right. One problem is that he’s confused standards and curriculum. Of course, the latter is heavily dependent on the former, but they are different. As Scott acknowledges in his letter to Duncan, the state has already opened its arms to Common Core and all that comes with it. He was sure to name-drop his predecessor, Jeb Bush, who remains one of the biggest supporter of the standards, as the one who pushed the state to accept Common Core. Acceptance of Common Core also brought the potential for more money, so most states dove in without sufficient debate on the topic. Scott says that the federal government is overstepping, but it is awfully hard for a state to argue that the federal government should not do something that the state permitted it to do in the first place.
Florida is not the first state to have second thoughts. PARCC has seen a number of states flee the group, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Utah was the first to drop out, while several others are on the brink of doing the same.
States and localities are not powerless in this struggle. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is a leading supporter of Common Core, but there localities are given the opportunity to customize implementation of the plans. That local control could lead to debate and even a shouting match or two, but at least the debate will be taking place and be done in the open.
The answer isn’t to try to hide the ball and rename Common Core, as has been done in Arizona where Governor Jan Brewer directed executive agencies and residents to call the standards Arizona’s College and Career Ready. That only leads to confusion. Instead, state and local governments should be discussing this issue with the people who care the most about it–parents. States are not required to keep or participate in Common Core, and parents ought not be handcuffed for speaking up.