Friday, May 31, 2013

Common Core and a Different Kind of Politics

The buzz in educational politics has lately been about Common Core, a set of nationwide standards for math and reading. These standards were developed by the National Governors' Association, with money from the Gates Foundation, and have been promoted by the Obama administration and by both George W. and Jeb Bush. The developers sought input from both teachers' unions and business groups. Common Core is, in short, a non-partisan effort from the usual set of elite institutions that guide national education policy.

Now angry opposition to the standards is breaking out all over the country. The opposition is being led by Tea Party groups but endorsed by an array of populist leftists as well. The leftists mainly object to the program's emphasis on standardized testing, conservatives to its being a nationwide program that overrides state and local control. The politics is thus different from the usual left-right divide, and right now the loudest rhetoric on both sides is coming from Republicans -- Jeb Bush and the Chamber of Commerce for the standards, Tea Party groups against them. Some Tea Partiers have taken to calling the standards "Obamacore," but really his administration had nothing to do with developing them.

I wonder if some of the people at the Tea Party rallies have any idea what is even in the Common Core standards. They look like innocuous bureaucratic stuff to me, and they are conservative in the sense that they stress basic skills like reading, writing, and very concrete math. So this strikes me as another example of the confusion in America over what conservatism means: decentralizaton and local tradition, or using the power of the state to promote national power, business interests, and the western intellectual tradition?

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