The Common Core State Standards Initiative has a variety of issues, but a prevalent critique against the educational standards is ironically misguided. Those who reject Common Core argue that it represents a one-size-fits-all, politically motivated education, yet organizations with political agendas that represent relatively small areas already decide what K-12 students throughout the nation will be taught.
Over the last 20 years, the Texas State Board of Education has been worryingly influential. In a June 21, 2012 article, columnist Gail Collins outlined objections to the board’s control. Texas initially became dominant in the nation’s textbook supply because it paid 100 percent of the cost of all public school textbooks — provided that said books were approved by the board. This meant that it is cheaper for both states and publishers to use Texas textbooks across the nation.
In a straight party-line vote on Nov. 21, Texas State Board of Education approved new public school history textbooks. Both liberals and conservatives blasted the results for bias. Liberals objected to the books’ emphasis on Moses’ influence on the U.S. Constitution while conservatives condemned the books for ignoring former President Ronald Reagan’s achievements — the same achievements that those on the left say are overemphasized. Apparently, Texas politicians can only agree that the textbooks are inaccurate and one-sided.
In light of current practices, Common Core is hardly the politically-motivated education students should fear. Supporters of the Common Core include the National Parent Teacher Association, President Barack Obama, prominent Republican Jeb Bush and the business-aligned Chamber of Commerce. The only texts students would be explicitly required to read under the new standards are core documents like the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to popular opinion, Common Core focuses on providing standards for what students should be able to do at certain levels, rather than telling states or teachers how to instill these skills. The strange worksheets that have surfaced with taxing descriptions of mathematical concepts are materials created by for-profit companies and acquired by individual states, not direct products of the Common Core Initiative. Rather than being dictated by any particular state or by the federal government, Common Core was created in collaboration with the National Governors’ Association, the nonprofit Achieve and the Council of Chief State School Officers. While the federal government helped fund the new standards and continues to encourage states to adopt them, the state legislatures were involved in their design.
As seen by the Texas State Board of Education’s domination of the textbook market, the alternative to Common Core is not free from political influence.
A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 24 print edition. Email Dana Brown at [email protected]