WE NEVER have been convinced that opposition to the Common Core teaching standards was anything more than the result of a campaign by professional agitators to drum up anger toward anything that can be even remotely tied to the president. Still, we sympathized with the decision by more responsible legislators to authorize a tweaking of the standards, in hopes of allowing our state to focus on real problems with our schools. Think of it as giving candy to a hysterical 3-year-old in order to calm a temper tantrum.
Unfortunately, the Common Core opponents haven’t been calmed, and the new standards that were unveiled last month are what you’d expect from a panel that tried to do in six months what a much broader panel of experts usually spends more than two years doing: an incoherent mess.
Check that: According to two panels set up to review the standards and two-thirds of the 13,000 comments from teachers and parents, they are worse than incoherent: They are a huge step backwards, a dumbing-down of what students are now being taught.
They’re also an embarrassing waste of taxpayer dollars: The state has spent more than $100 million to develop and implement the Common Core standards, and the Legislature ordered a rewrite before they even had been fully phased in. Mind you, the standards already were set to be reviewed in two years, but those lawmakers who insisted that Common Core was a plot by the Obama administration to dumb down and indoctrinate our children couldn’t wait; the premature replacement is projected to cost another $66 million.
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It’s not much of a stretch to say that this boondoggle was brought to you by the people who complain the loudest about how wasteful public education is. And in this case, they’ve made it so.
Beyond the money wasted by having to purchase new teaching materials to match the new standards, there’s the educational cost of forcing teachers to teach to new standards they haven’t had a chance to familiarize themselves with. As one school superintendent told Charleston’s Post and Courier: “I’m not married to a set of standards. Just give me a set, and I’ll teach whatever you give me.”
As for the claims of an Obama plot, which are central to the opposition, it might be a conspiracy theory worth considering if the Obama administration had been involved in drafting the standards; it wasn’t. They were drafted by educators form South Carolina and other states, to provide a more rigorous curriculum, to better prepare students to meet the demands of the modern job market. And once the states finished the job, the administration encouraged them to adopt the standards.
Even if we wanted to abandon the standards that professionals in our state and others spent years carefully writing, even if we wanted to reject the idea that algebra is the same in South Carolina and California and that students in South Carolina should be expected to read as well as those in New Hampshire, it makes no sense to rush shoddy new standards into place.
The law passed this spring requires the current standards to stay in place until the Education Department and the Education Oversight Commission check off on the new ones. They should refuse to do so unless or until the state comes up with standards that are at least as academically rigorous and that go at least as far toward teaching students the critical-thinking skills to compete in today’s job market.
And the Legislature should rescind that rush-job law, or at the least give educators an additional year to work on the new standards.