Teaching and Politics: Behind the Scenes of Common Core Wars

By Matthew Lynch

As more and more governors and local politicians denounce Common Core initiatives, and more states officially back away from the standards, the debate over the place and effectiveness of Common Core heats up.  In fact,Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence made headlines when he announced that his state would soon abandon the Common Core standards.  But what is really going on and how does this affect those who matter most—the teachers and students?

What Indiana did may have appeared groundbreaking to outsiders, but anyone following the Common Core debate knows it is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been a significant number of bills filed in the U.S. that deal with ways for students to become college-ready. Of those, 100 are designed specifically to slow, halt or overturn Common Core requirements. So there are a lot of non-federal entities that feel their legislative toes have been stepped on when it comes to K-12 college readiness curriculum and testing.

Federal versus State Rights

Beyond academics, the Common Core requirements are at the heart of a war that has been waged between state’s rights and the role of the federal government in uniform K-12 standards. On the surface, it does appear that Common Core standards are meant to give federal authority. In truth though there is some wiggle room for states to make the standards their own and places like Tennessee, Mississippi and Arizona are doing just that. If implemented in the way they were designed, Common Core requirements will actually put more control in the hands of the states and not the federal government.

Are Teachers Happy about It?

There seems to be a lot of conflicting information when it comes to what teachers think about Common Core standards – and what they think matters. After all, they are the people who are most accountable for any standards and testing systems that are put in place. They are also the ones who see firsthand how education policies impact students. So what is the truth about what teachers think about Common Core testing?

  • 75 percent support Common Core, says a May 2013 American of Federation (AFT) poll that surveyed 800 teachers.
  • 76 percent strongly, or somewhat, support Common Core based on an Education Next Survey from 2013.
  • More than three-fourths support Common Core Standards “wholeheartedly” or with some minor reservations, according to a September 2013 National Education Association member survey.
  • 73 percent of teachers that specializes in math, science, social studies and English language arts are “enthusiastic” about the implementation of Common Core standards in their classrooms, from a 2013 Primary Sources poll of 20,000 educators.

Beyond those numbers, a higher amount of elementary teachers are optimistic about Common Core than their high school counterparts. A survey conducted by The Hechinger Report Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that just 41 percent of high school teachers are positive about Common Core standards. A recent survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals found that more than 80 percent of principals (out of 1,000 from 14 states) say that Common Core standards have the potential to increase student skill mastery, create meaningful assessments and improve areas like conceptual understanding.

It seems that the basis of Common Core is a solid one, then, when it comes to the people who understand teaching the most. Today’s teachers are in overcrowded, underfunded classrooms with higher accountability standards placed on them than ever before. If there truly was an unfair setup, teachers would certainly be the first ones to point it out.

What do you think is really going on?  Are the common core debates simply political or do they hold water—academically speaking?



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