The Common Core State Standards, which spell out what K-12 students should learn in school, are at the center of a heated debate: Who should control public education? What do students really need to know? Let's separate fact from fiction to figure out what's at stake.
<b>1. The Common Core is a federal takeover of public education that imposes a national curriculum.</b>
It isn't and it doesn't — though it has substantial support from the Obama administration, verging on coercion.
The Common Core has been spearheaded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, D.C.-based associations that get funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2009, with bipartisan support, they engaged education reform nonprofits to take the lead in writing standards for what students should know and be able to do in math and English/language arts, grade by grade, from kindergarten through 12th.
The core does not prescribe how students should meet those standards, though the English/language arts authors also wrote curriculum guidelines for textbook publishers, and school districts in different states can and are using the same prepackaged lessons.
Forty-five states and the District have adopted the core, and the Obama administration has a lot to do with that statistic. Its $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition makes adoption of "common standards" an incentive to win federal funding. The Education Department also wanted states that applied for waivers from No Child Left Behind to adopt common standards.
<b>2. Opposition to the Common Core is coming primarily from the tea party and white suburban moms.</b>
Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month blamed some of the core backlash on "white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were." Earlier, he characterized the opposition as "political silliness" and "a rallying cry for fringe groups."
The reality is that resistance to the Common Core is coming from every political direction. On the right, the tea party has indeed been vocal. Though the core has support from the likes of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, conservative Republicans have mounted a sustained attack. Glenn Beck warned his listeners: "You as a parent are going to be completely pushed out of the loop. The state is completely pushed out of the loop. They now have control of your children."
On the left, Diane Ravitch, the most vocal critic of school reforms that focus on standardization, has suggested that federal promotion of the Common Core "may well have been illegal."