A Second Look at Common Core

Bill Neinast


In Texas, local control is an oxymoron.  Doubters of that characterization should visit meetings of local governing bodies.

Consider the Washington County Commissioners’ Court as an example.  One of the items on last week’s agenda for that court was to authorize the County Auditor to audit one of the accounts of the County Sheriff as directed by a state law.  

Think about that.  The self anointed smart guys in Austin think they have to direct county governments how to use their own auditors.

Then leave the Commissioners’ Court and attend a meeting of either of the so called “Independent” school districts in the county.  Watch them struggle to develop a calendar that complies with the state mandated length of a school year.  Better yet, watch them struggle to insure that the teachers are “teaching to the tests” so that the students can master the state directed STAAR and TAKS tests.  Then visit Chapter 21 of the Texas Education Code to see how much “control” independent trustees have in hiring a superintendent.

With the absence of local control being such a reality, it is surprising that there is opposition in Texas to adopting the federal Common Core standards.  Those standards would not diminish the minimal local control remaining.  They would simply modify or add another layer on the teaching to the tests.

The objections to Common Core being thrown around in the media seem to have a common theme.  The theme is that the standards were drafted by a bunch of liberal intellectuals and would meld Texas youngsters into socialist leaning non-thinkers.

As this debate did not affect me directly, I noted the objections without much thought or checking.  That changed when I watched a televised interview with Bill Bennett several weeks ago.  

Dr. Bennett was President Reagan’s Secretary of Education from 1985 to 1988.  He left that post to become President George H. W. Bush’s Director of the National Drug Control Policy.  He earned a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin and has a law degree from Harvard. Although he started his political life as a Democrat, he switched to the Republican Party in 1968 and is obviously not a liberal hot head.

Bennett’s basic tenet was to suggest that all of the Common Core standards be read before a decision is made to condemn or adopt. That was such a novel idea, I tried to read the entire document.

The standards are too long for an easy read, but I read enough to form a different perception of the subject.  The Core is more a goal setting document than a rule making directive.  It is a set of standards, not a curriculum.

There is no list of books or documents that must be studied.  There are suggestions for things that should be studied and understood.  Among the recommended--not directed--readings are the Unites States Constitution and other historical documents related to the country, works by Shakespeare, and a number of works by American and international authors.

Imagine that, those left wingers who developed Common Core included a suggestion to study the history of this great nation. 

The standards established in Common Core are based on what the educational experts who developed them thought were the best available nationally and internationally.  Maybe it is time to look at what is being done internationally.

In a 2012 international student assessment involving 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 27th in math, 17th in reading, and 20th in science.  So maybe the foreigners have something good we could use.

Those dismal international rankings reminded me of several recent experiences.  

Several years ago I visited with a Polish high school exchange student.  I asked her how her educational experiences here compared with her home.  She replied that she was bored to death.  What she was studying here in high school she had learned in grade school back in Poland.

Sometime later, I visited with the young man repairing my computer.  He was from Poland also and said that he would be going home at the end of the summer.  He was a young father and thought his children would get a much better education in Poland from what he was observing in Austin.

Finally, last Fall I visited Scandinavia.  I was impressed that every local I visited spoke excellent English and most of them spoke two other languages, their own and one other than English.  In comparing their English with that of my home grown students at Blinn College in the 80s, we Texans came in at a poor second.

So here’s the perspective.

Thinking there is local control of education and other local activities defies reality.  We are doing only what we are allowed or told to do by self anointed smarter people in the capitol cities.

The educational directives from on high obviously are not doing the job.  Maybe following another map would lead to higher ground.

That map could be Common Core.  Let’s try it.  Things certainly will not get worse.


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