Common Core Under Fire

Rep. Garrett to introduce bill offering states a way out of federally mandated standards

Clarksdale High School students / AP
June 11, 2013

Rep. Scott Garrett (R., N.J.) said on Tuesday he will reintroduce the LEARN Act to offer states a way out of the federally supported Common Core state education standards.

"It’s time that we return our system to the system that our founders envisioned," Garrett said at a briefing on Capitol Hill. "It’s time to return our education policy back to the local communities. It’s time to actually put the students first and not anyone else."

Forty-five states have already adopted the Common Core, which provides a set of English and mathematics standards outlining what students are expected to learn at each grade level. The initiative was established to revitalize the nation’s education system so that American students can compete with their peers abroad.

"The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers," according to the Common Core’s mission statement.

However, some conservatives and libertarians view the Common Core as the federal government standardizing education.

The Cato Institute hosted the briefing that also featured remarks from Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, and Lindsey Burke, an education fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

"The goal is to set up walls around your curriculum and your public schools across America," McCluskey said. "It may not tell you specifically what books you have to use but it sets limits on the decisions that local schools can make."

Garrett said the government is succeeding in taking away states’ ability to set their own educational standards by placing demands behind federal money.

The Obama administration in 2009 pushed states to embrace the standards in order to receive a grant through the federal program known as Race to the Top.

Proponents say the Common Core was developed in a yearlong, bipartisan process by state leaders, not the federal government.

"Local school boards have had, and will continue to have, discretion in how to work with their schools and educators to teach those higher objectives – from the text they use to the teaching techniques they employ," Gov. Jack Markell (D., Del.) wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Monday. "The difference is that the expectations for a high school junior in Delaware will be the same as in California."

Markell asked opponents to look at military families as examples of students directly affected by varying education expectations due to their constant relocation.

"They talk about moving to a new state with better academic standards, and how their kids initially struggle to meet more challenging goals but ultimately flourish beyond the levels that their previous accomplishments would have suggested," he wrote.

Burke says unifying curriculum is insufficient because it exasperates the problems of the nation’s educational system by preventing teachers and parents from choosing what is best for students individually.

"The paramount concern for us with Common Core is that it further entrenches the federal government into what is taught in our nation’s schools," Burke said. "Such intervention is zero sum game. Every inch the federal government takes comes is at the expense of state and local control over education."

"One size does not fit all when it comes to standards and assessments."

Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said time will reveal if the Common Core will succeed in revamping the nation’s education system.

"I’d rather have a smaller number of sincere states that want to do it right and then see what difference it makes," Finn said. "We’ll learn absolutely nothing from states that claim to be using Common Core for their standards but don’t actually do the heavy lifting: curriculum, teaching, assessment, etc."