Efforts to block the Common Core standards are cropping up in state houses across the country. They are being fueled in part, The Washington Post's Peter Wallsten and Lyndsey Layton recently reported, by tea party activists who frame the issue as one of improper federal intrusion into states' responsibility for education. The standards don't dictate curriculum; rather, they lay out the math, reading and writing skills that students should master from kindergarten through 12th grade. They are the product of a bipartisan effort, led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, that dates back five years and that relied on research from experts and input from teachers. It was a transparent and much publicized endeavor.
By replacing state standards that vary in content and quality, the Common Core aims to raise the quality of instruction and ensure that students, no matter where they live, get the educational skills needed to succeed. By promoting critical thinking and more meaningful mastery of subjects, the standards seek to de-emphasize standardized testing based on rote memorization. So it's discouraging to see states that had originally embraced this effort blink in the face of unexpected political opposition.
State backtracking will present a test for the Obama administration, which encouraged adoption of the standards through Race to the Top awards and waivers from No Child Left Behind. This week Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a one-year, partial waiver from his waivers. States will be given an extra year to meet teacher evaluation standards, he said. Mr. Duncan insisted that the delay is not a retreat from the goal of accountability but rather a bit of flexibility to allow for a smoother rollout. We hope that is so.
We also hope the administration does not retreat from its support for the broader Common Core standards, which, as Republican and Democratic governors attest, will help ensure that students do not leave high school unprepared for the modern world.
Or, as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, R, recently pleaded: "These standards . . . are clear and straightforward. They will allow for more innovation in the classroom, less regulation. They'll equip students to compete with their peers from across the globe. Do not pull back. Please do not pull back on Common Core standards."