Most conservatives instinctively and correctly oppose Common Core. The issue becomes muddy when a few high-profile conservatives appear to be in favor of it. Such support provides a bottomless font ofschadenfreude for Common Core’s mostly liberal supporters and gives them an effective wedge issue. Therefore, examining conservative “support” for national Common Core standards might be the single most important tactic in the fight against it.
Prima facie, this support is based on a simple premise: public education is failing, so we should establish minimal standards that all kids must meet. Bill Bennett, for example, has said, “we can all agree that there is a need for common standards of assessment in K-12 education. And we can all agree that there are common and shared truths.”
Okay, but the question that arises is: What are the “common and shared truths?” Let’s answer that in a moment.
To be sure, there is arguably something conservative about the notion of establishing a single bar for education and holding all public schools everywhere accountable to it. But what could possibly go wrong?
First, Common Core necessarily undermines local control over public education. Though local education autonomy has been eroding for some time, the Common Core attack removes all veneer and goes straight to localism’s last bastion: the curriculum. If you establish national standards and tests to assess achievement, the curriculum –that is, what the children are taught—must and will inevitably follow.
But shouldn’t a conservative’s clear disposition be to favor local autonomy over top-down control? Of course. Conservatives should also have a high tolerance for differences between local solutions and ultimately place their trust in communities to understand how to best educate their children. It’s a basic 10th Amendment argument.
The intrinsic link between control and content relates directly to the second main problem all conservatives should have with Common Core: Namely, it opens the floodgates even further for the overwhelmingly liberal bent of the national education establishment to insert itself into the content of what we’re teaching our children.
The conception of the Common Core initiative, as politically agnostic, requires the suspension of all disbelief. Examples and facts abound. But one needs to look no further than the person widely recognized as the “architect” of Common Core: David Coleman. Coleman—a reliable Obama supporter, Democratic contributor and son of the former president of Bennington College—is also the current president of the College Board, which designs and administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests.
According to an analysis by Stanley Kurtz, Common Core standards and new testing for AP History represent “a coordinated … effort to effectively federalize all of American K-12 education, while shifting its content sharply to the left.” This shift can be indirect, as happens when schools adopt “suggested”Common Core friendly texts that are politically biased. Or it can be more direct, as in the case of new mandates for AP History in which, as Kurtz points out, “James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the other Founders are largely left out of the new test, unless they are presented as examples of conflict and identity by class, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.”
This brings us back to the question: Are there truths shared by conservatives on which national educational standards could or even should be based? Certainly. Among these are freedom, citizenship, and liberty. The United States is a uniquely gifted and burdened nation and a return to the principles upon which we were founded—especially in public education—is paramount. But what are the chances that such truths will make their way from the national, overwhelmingly liberal, education intelligentsia to local curricula via common standards and assessments?
In 2014 America, the pursuit of common educational standards simply cannot be separated from the assault on local educational autonomy or from the leftward lurch of public education. In other words, conservatives must decide whether they’re actually conservative on this or any topic. They can try and deny the value trade-offs, but the only problem this resolves is their own cognitive dissonance.
In reality, conservatives must choose between the somewhat understandable impulse to set common national standards and the fundamentally conservative mission to defend local autonomy wherever possible. They must decide whether or not they’re comfortable with local communities determining how to apply the public treasury to education and create curricula that align to their local preferences and character. And they must recognize that common standards will ultimately mean common liberalstandards.
The fact is, general opposition to Common Core is mounting steadily and more people are becoming aware of its dreadful implications. For example, the Pennsylvania school district in which I serve as school board president recently joined a growing number of districts that have passed strong anti-Common Core resolutions. The sooner high-profile conservatives and Republicans join the chorus, the better the chances of returning control over education to local communities, where it belongs.
We all need to get onboard together. It’s time to wake up, conservatives—the nation’s children need you.
Dr. R.B.A. Di Muccio is a guest commentator for The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.