Bolton: SC’s uncommon, unreasonable uproar over Common Core

Associate EditorMay 17, 2014 

— THE UNCOMMON and unreasonable uproar over Common Core doesn’t add up to good things for our state or its children.

It’s not that I’ve wholeheartedly embraced Common Core. Hey, it’s change; we don’t like change.

My initial experience with Common Core as a parent wasn’t the most pleasant.

When my third-grader began bringing home math homework, my wife and I scratched our heads more than a few times. We couldn’t help but wonder aloud: Why don’t they just teach simple math, like we were taught? We learned all the shortcuts, committed much to memory and when put to the test simply produced an answer.

What’s this notion of teaching two or three long-handed ways of doing math and having to show your work?

But the more we helped our son, the more we learned there is a method to the madness. This wasn’t simply an attempt to get him to give an answer; it was an attempt to help him understand how and why he arrived at that answer.

It challenged him to think. To study. To analyze. To interpret.

I’m no expert on Common Core; I have read only enough of the standards to have a decent understanding of how it relates to my elementary child. I haven’t experienced challenges parents of middle and high school students say they face. And the response from teachers varies.

I talked with one teacher who said the math standards have been a chore to learn and prepare to teach and that it irked some colleagues. But in the midst of her frustration, she said she discovered a welcome surprise: Students who once had struggled with math were actually “getting it” and improving their performance. Some bright students who always did well struggled some, causing their parents to be concerned, she said.

It’s imperative to hear concerns from parents, teachers and others. And if changes need to be made, let’s fix Common Core. But ditching it doesn’t make sense this early in the game.

The last thing South Carolina needs to do is kill Common Core in response to complaints draped in emotions, politics or ideology. When it comes to our children’s education, ours has been a history of constant change, sometimes midstream. When you change every four or eight or even 12 years to appease a certain constituency, you never get traction to drive toward lasting success that empowers generations.

Fortunately, lawmakers haven’t — at least not yet — bought in to “the end is near” cries from some Common Core critics. Instead of a premature death sentence, they’re considering a careful review.

Reasonable people can raise legitimate questions about these or any other standards. But can’t we raise those in a civil — and, indeed, reasonable — manner rather than in such extreme rhetoric, suggesting that Common Core is a plot of the devil to destroy our children’s brains and steal their futures? Really? Is that how we’re going to have this important discussion?

I’m not defending the standards as perfect. They’re new. It’s going to take time to work out any bugs, whether with the standards themselves, the curriculum, textbooks and materials, teaching methodology or tests.

But you can’t argue with the intent: to make our students more competitive and prepare them for college and all that comes after it, such as getting a job and being productive in it.

Common Core has critics and supporters of all stripes, but some opponents are particularly loud and extreme. I know some detractors who are simply opposing the standards because, well, that’s what they’ve always done: criticized public education. Some of those folks run with the crowd that wants to pay parents tax dollars to pull their children out of public schools and send them to private schools. It’s not that they don’t want Common Core standards; they don’t want any standards.

I’ve read the angry comments in news articles, letters and guest columns, as well as on social media, and many inevitably recite the tired refrain “it’s a federal government takeover” — code that it’s brought to you by President Obama. But Common Core isn’t a federal deal. It was a collaboration that got support from places such as the National Governors Association, business people and private foundations.

One key element of Common Core is that it seeks to put an end to the widely varying standards allowed under No Child Left Behind. States with more rigorous standards that challenged their students were penalized as states with lower standards deemed students “proficient” who might have been “below basic” under tougher circumstances.

South Carolina should embrace that level playing field. Ours was one of those states that was penalized because its standards were among the more rigorous.

Yet, there are those who want to drop Common Core. Unreal.

Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or wbolton@thestate.com.

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