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LETTERS / Supporting the Common Core is Common Sense

June 5, 2014. 

Dear Editor,

The Common Core standards for math and English/language arts are in the news again in our state, and not for good reasons.  In case you haven’t heard, a bill has been introduced in the NC General Assembly to repeal the Common Core standards in NC public schools and that bill has just been passed by the NC House of Representatives.

As someone who has devoted his life to education and who cares deeply about our children and our state’s future, I want to go on record to say that repealing the Common Core would be a significant setback for our schools and a major mistake for our state.

I would never claim the Common Core is perfect.  Nothing of human devising ever is.  However, there can be no doubt it is a significant improvement over the standards that preceded it, both within NC and across most of the 44 states that have adopted the Common Core.  It’s also the case that backing away from the Common Core now, after the investment of huge amounts of time and millions of dollars to implement them starting last year, would place additional demands on teachers who already face a full plate of challenges.  Heaping more uncertainty and confusion on our underpaid and overburdened teachers is the last thing we should be doing in public education.

Some people seem to want to make this an “us versus them” debate, but there’s no need to demonize anyone on this issue.  Most opposition to the Common Core comes from well-meaning individuals who have heard statements that raised real concerns.  The problem is that the statements they have heard are often rooted in misunderstanding or myth rather than the facts.  Here are the most commonly mentioned objections to the Common Core and the facts about each one.

The objection: the Common Core dictates the specifics of instruction and removes autonomy from teachers and principals.  The facts: The Common Core is a set of standards that identify what students should know and be able to do in math and English/language arts at each grade level.  It does not require specific methods of instruction.  It does not mandate the use of specific textbooks.  It does not dictate the type or content of lesson plans or how they are delivered.  It requires only three specific texts that must be read by all students:  the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.  In short, the Common Core leaves plenty of freedom for professional educators to determine the best resources and methods for serving their students.

The objection: the Common Core was created and/or required by the federal government.  The facts: The Common Core was developed through the efforts of the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers with extensive input from educators and employers in setting the standards.  No federal legislation or administrative policy requires its adoption by any state.  Far from representing an example of federal overreach and intrusion into state and local decision making, the creation of the Common Core is an exceptional example of cooperative federalism and of an effective government/business partnership.    It was bipartisan, it was inclusive, and it has been widely endorsed by leaders in education and business as a major step forward for American education and for American competitiveness in the world economy.

The objection: the Common Core requires much more testing for students when we already have too much.  The truth: the Common Core does not require more testing, or any testing at all for that matter, though the confusion on this point is understandable.  As a condition of receiving federal “Race to the Top” grant funds, NC agreed to implement additional tests to be used as part of teacher evaluations.   The Common Core standards were implemented in NC in the same year as these additional tests (known as the NC final exams), an unfortunate coincidence of timing that made them appear connected.   Most educators and many parents, including this one, wholeheartedly agree that we require too much student testing, but that issue is unrelated to the Common Core.

Repealing the Common Core in NC would weaken public education, impose increased costs on taxpayers, and adversely affect the future of our state’s students and businesses.  With its higher, more rigorous standards, the Common Core does pose greater challenges for students and for the schools that serve them, but to abandon the standards is to say we should give up when things get hard.  We owe our students more than that.  Let’s stay the course on the Common Core and use it to help our students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in higher education and in their careers.

Dr. David Fonseca

Interim Superintendent

Watauga County Schools