I started an email correspondence last year with Jeremy Kilpatrick, a University of Georgia professor who helped craft the Common Core math standards, when Republican state conventioneers started debating the evils of Common Core as a potential plank in the party platform.
“Those of us who worked on helping to develop the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics assumed that because the effort was being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the standards would not be seen as coming from the federal government –because they weren’t,” he wrote last year. “I don’t think any of us was prepared for the backlash that has arisen. It’s too bad because I think, on balance, the standards represent potential progress even if they aren’t perfect and have had little opportunity to be tried out.”
The blowback hasn’t really slowed down since. The meaningless do-nothing demagoguery of this session, typified by a call for an Article V convention and the feckless gun bill, reached its nadir with all the legislative effort wasted trying to kill Common Core. The compromise between the sane wing of the Republican Party and the other guys was HR 550, calling for an education study committee.
This line in the committee’s mission brief – and, hooray for more useless government committees! – is a metaphor for policy making in this state.
“WHEREAS, to evaluate whether a recommendation should be made that the United States Department of Education should be abolished and any funding derived thereby returned to the states in the form of block grants for the purpose of education spending.”
But there had to be some red meat in the language to get the radical wing of the party to sign on. Thus, we find the party of smaller government creating a Kafkaesque government committee to recommend an ineffectual, symbolic government statement calling for the abolition of the federal Department of Education, which almost no one thinks will ever happen.
The real purpose of the committee is plain: to remind members that Common Core is a conservative idea, created by Republicans, as an alternative to the federal government. If the committee can’t get the fringes of the Republican party to stop driving debate off a cliff, it’s a signal to the rest of the electorate that the party hates government too much to actually govern.
The law calls for a “review (of) the origins of the common core standards, including its genesis as a voluntary, state led effort, the subsequent endorsement by the federal government, and the effects and implications of newer federal ties to the common core standard.”
This review is necessary because many Georgia conservatives appear to have forgotten that they created Common Core in the first place.
As a progressive Democrat, maybe I should just watch with a bowl of popcorn and a grin as this circular firing squad loads up. Demography is destiny. We’ll have the ball sooner or later. But I actually want to live in this state and I would prefer an education policy now that leads to fewer stupid people later.
Common Core emerged from the very conservative and very Republican view that the federal government should not impose a mandate on state education standards. But without some kind of commonly-understood school standard, economic development panjandrums can’t quite convince corporate executives to relocate their manufacturing plants and their families and their school-age children to some Podunk hamlet on the outskirts of Where-The-Hell-Are-We, Georgia.
So Sonny Purdue and a bunch of Republican governors went around the federal government to create their own education compact with non-federal standards. And 45 out of 50 states signed on.
Enter Obama. The moment he said “looks good!” and offered money to help through Race for the Top grants, Common Core became an evil progressive plot to teach socialist calculus and force seventh graders to read the Little Red Book in literature class. Next step: free health care and forced abortions for all.
Republicans howl when reminded of this, but conservatives supported the individual health insurance mandate, too. Yes, yes you did. Stop denying it. The conservative Heritage Foundation crafted a free-market alternative with an individual mandate to oppose the progressive preference of a European single-payer system. Democrats knew single payer wouldn’t fly. So they embraced elements of the compromise plan that Mitt Romney implemented in Massachusetts.
But if Democrats wanted it, it must be evil. Hence, political chaos for six years. And doesn’t Common Core look like it’s travelling the same path.
Does Common Core work? Not yet, not really, not fresh out of the box. The math standards have people posting weird, fake math problems on Facebook. Both conservatives and liberals have legitimate concerns about how to implement the standards, which are tougher than a lot of parents are used to seeing.
But if conservatives ever want to be able to argue that they govern under real-world conditions more competently than progressives govern, then they need to make their initiatives like Common Core work. And most parent and teacher and education groups in Georgia think Common Core makes for a reasonable baseline.
What replaces Common Core, if the state chucks it? A better question: who replaces it? For all the complaints about the “secrecy” of the process of crafting Common Core, the people who built it are the people like Dr. Kilpatrick, who any reasonable group of educators would have been working with to design a standard in the first place. Would anyone credible and competent be willing to lend their name and their wit to a new effort if the work of their predecessors goes down in a flaming pile of ideological bombast? I think not.
And what about the other huge pressing problems in this state? The interstate water wars? Traffic catastrophes? The unemployment rate? Urban blight? Poverty? Sentencing reform? What happens when people trying to solve problems know they’re going to be on the receiving end of radical conservative cannon fire if they come up with a solution even Democrats would like? Nothing will get solved.