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Common Core has become a prominent issue in the presidential race, at least in the Republican primary. As Politico reports, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the latest presidential aspirant to make a big display of opposing the standards that he once championed.
The article explains, "Virtually every 2016 Republican presidential candidate has turned against the education standards, other than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush."
This is a strange turn of events given that the idea of national standards was originally a popular among conservatives, dating back to the publication of “A Nation at Risk” during the Reagan Administration.
But instead of pointing out the incoherence of the Republican point of view, Democrats are responding to Republican attacks on the Common Core with incoherent arguments of their own.
"Common Core is working," the folks at Think Progress, the blog site of the Democratic-affiliated Center for American Progress, declare. As evidence, they cite improvements for students in Kentucky that likely had more to do with long-term policy changes than the relatively recent Common Core implementation.
The group’s memo argues that Common Core "helps level the playing field to ensure that all kids have an equal chance at succeeding."
To be fair, there are good reasons to support the Common Core.
When teachers say Common Core standards are better than their old standards, they should be respected. When teachers are given the opportunity to lead implementation of the new standards, they should be supported.
Of course, states should be allowed to adapt the standards to their needs. It seems naive to expect Common Core implementations in Mississippi to mirror what happens in Massachusetts.
But there are reasons to be hesitant about giving full-throated support to the Common Core. Just to name a couple: Early childhood experts have expressed concerns about the age appropriateness of the standards. And the Core’s heavy emphasis on close reading could take the pleasure out of an activity that used to be fun.
So when Democrats respond to Republican Common Core criticism with unqualified support for the standards, they look misinformed. Even worse, they take the focus away from what matters.
As popular teacher-blogger Mark Weber explains on his website, "If you had to make a list of the things that need to be done to improve the educational outcomes of students, rewriting the standards would be near the bottom."
If Democrats want to present real arguments for education equity, they should propose federal solutions for the 23 states who give richer school districts more money than poorer ones.
They should call for measures to ensure the federal government fulfills its original promise to fund 40 percent of special education services. The closest Congress ever came to that pledge was 18.5 percent in 2005.
They should explain how a federal administration rededicated to equity would intervene in the twin crisis of black boys and girls being pushed out of education into the criminal justice system.
They should propose plans for federal support of community schools that can provide the range of education, health, counseling, and cultural services needed in communities traumatized by poverty.
But to thrust support for Common Core—or opposition to it, for that matter—into the center of the education debate is an enormous distraction from what really matters.