The history of Christian activism is far from entirely positive, but Christians should be proud of their roles in the fight for the abolition of slavery, Civil Rights, and in the contemporary pro-life movement. Unfortunately, many Christians have unleashed their scorn upon the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), calling them "Obamacore," "anti-Christian" "insidious," and even "evil."
As a Christian and an educator, I am driven by Scriptures like this one from Proverbs 19, "Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future." In truth, "listening" can be remarkably difficult amid the blaring dissonance of (even the most well-intentioned) contention.
The Common Core battle's ferocity is such that objectivity seems non-existent (my own impartiality, of course, notwithstanding) yet if all would collectively inhale and step away from the fray momentarily, we may see that the anti-Core rage appears to be unwarranted and the opposition misplaced.
A review of the CCSS' history brings some clarity. States have been trying, with little success, to align what we teach in Alaska to Arizona to Alabama for decades. We were all stunned by the now-famous 1983 educational report, "A Nation at Risk," warned that, "The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people." But our subsequent best efforts and billions of dollars did nothing to improve our educational results, and America continued to slide down the international rankings.
In 2005, the now-defunct "American Diploma Project" was launched, and I joined educators in Nevada, worked with a handful of other states, and worked on key objectives, including an attempt to "Align high school standards and assessments with the knowledge and skills required for the demands of college and careers." Sound familiar? Here's how advocates describe the CCSS: "They simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum; it's up to school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards."
The CCSS did not exactly sweep America's educational experts off their feet, but a broad majority saw their potential to demand more from students and teachers, begin competing with the best international students, and better prepare all students for life and work. When Paul E. Peterson, the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, broadly surveyed educators and others for EducationNext about six months ago, the results were resoundingly in favor of CCSS. Here is a sampling of the question and responses:
"As you may know, all states are currently deciding whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math. If adopted, these standards would be used to hold the state's schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the adoption of the Common Core standards in your state?"
General Public Support 65%
Teachers Support 76%
General Public Oppose 13%
Teachers Oppose 11%
General Public Neutral 23%
Teachers Neutral 12%
But Dr. Peterson's survey came during the halcyon pre-political-take-sides-or-die days that CCSS first experienced. Today, state leaders who supported CCSS' more rigorous standards, invested in their adoption, and began aligning their work, have reversed their positions in response to top donors' and other vocal constituents' concerns about CCSS. Conservative pundits have surged forward with a unified message, and dubbed CCSS the latest "left-wing conspiracy" funded by shadowy, culture-shaping "marketing overlords."
Absent in nearly every "opposing" stance I have read thus far is any attack on a specific standard or any refutation of the claim that these new standards will help our students--students of every tribe and tongue--be more competitive in the global marketplace. CCSS is the most ambitious attempt to reform education in our lifetime, and we should expect some opposition. Yet, in the spirit of American exceptionalism and our deep belief in the connection between education and success in life, we should let CCSS stand or fall on its own merits, and not allow it to be victimized by politicization.
Pontius Pilate is among history's more famous personages to ask, "What is truth?" While many have offered their version about truth as it relates to the Common Core, if people of faith--and of no faith--sift through the extraordinary amount of information on CCSS, I think they would find:
• It is not an attempt by President Obama or anyone else in the federal government to "take over" our states' ability to control education. Remember, five of them have not yet adopted them, and some others, like Indiana, have opted out--that "proves" states still have control.
• Common Core is a great improvement over what most states had or have in place with regard to rigor and cohesiveness.
• Teachers, parents, school administrators, and experts from across the country, together with state leaders, provided input into the development of the standards. The actual implementation of the Common Core, including how the standards are taught, the curriculum developed, and the materials used to support teachers as they help students reach the standards, is led entirely at the state and local levels.
The implementation for CCSS will be very expensive. The potential for abuse and government intrusion always exists. That is why we need Christians and others to be diligent at the local level to ensure that what is taught and how it is taught reflects our proud intellectual traditions. We must also welcome standards that will help all of God's children be wiser, and more prepared in the days ahead.