Locally, NCLB produced what we refer to as the Standards of Learning (SOL). The SOL is essentially a criterion-referenced test, a fancy way of saying a test that measures the degree to which a student has learned the standards of learning as defined by the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, even though states continue to see gains on their high stakes tests, there does not seem to be commensurate improvement on international comparisons. We are left to wonder if our state curricula are rigorous enough or if our assessment instruments accurately measure student achievement.
The Common Core is intended by its supporters to provide a common curriculum for all states that choose to adopt it (currently 40 states), as well as to create testing that is more consistent across states. Similar to the intent of No Child Left Behind, the hope is that a more aggressive curriculum would produce more rigorous testing, thus producing students that would show gains not only at the state level but also on international comparisons. All good stuff… Right?
Problems have arisen when the Common Core has been put into practice. It is difficult to achieve unanimity of opinion as to what should actually become part of a national curriculum. Issues such as American exceptionalism, the role of religion in public schools, and whether Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World is cause for celebration or angst have all been raised. And that is just the history portion of the curriculum. What about global warming, human reproduction, and evolution in the science curriculum? Perhaps you’ve seen cartoons poking fun at the new Common Core math?
You see, as Americans, we have a long history of the Federal Government encouraging and supporting education yet leaving curriculum up to the States. The Tenth Amendment of our Constitution says that any powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution are reserved to the States. And education is not delegated to the United States. We have always believed that education is best left up to the state as the state is best positioned to determine what is appropriate for its students to learn. So why is there support for a national curriculum like the Common Core?
Of course, there is another side to this issue.
For almost 60 years, the Federal Government has had an active role in education at the state level beginning with the National Defense Education Act, a landmark piece of Cold War legislation passed in 1958. The assumption of this act was that it was a national security interest to the United States that our schools produce scientists able to compete with the Russians. The Civil Rights movement of the 60’s and Women’s Rights legislation of the 70’s only increased the role of the Federal Government to the point that federal spending on education amounts to 4% of our federal budget.
You see, as Americans, we have a strong recent history of federal assistance to education. And it is easily argued that our lack of competitiveness in international measures of academic achievement is evidence that our nation is at risk of losing its standing as the dominant economic power in the world. As such, the Common Core plays a critical role in our country’s efforts to improve our standing in the world’s economy. This makes it difficult to argue against a national curriculum, as it is critical to the economic security of the United States.
Do we rely on the Tenth Amendment for guidance or do we recognize that the Constitution could not have imagined the competitive nature of a world economy based on information and creativity? Politics will enter into this debate in the upcoming months because this will be a topic that will be addressed. No issue is clear cut, certainly not the Common Core.
But remember, an election season is an excellent time to teach your children by examining major issues from more than one perspective. Teach them how to understand an issue from multiple sides; they will be all the better for it.
Originally published in the October 2015 issue of The South Roanoke Circle