Attacks on Common Curriculum, Tests, Hit Nerve

By Catherine Gewertz — May 10, 2011 2 min read
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Yesterday’s news that a group of common-standards critics had launched an attack on common curriculum and tests produced some intriguing reactions, from reflective questions to grandiose predictions.

Before I share a sampling, let me give you a couple of breadcrumbs to catch up, in case you weren’t immersed in this stuff yesterday: my blog post and my story.

Now that you’re up to speed, let’s look at the rollout of reaction. Close to home, check the comments section of my blog post: The comments there capture many of the central arguments being tossed around out there over common standards, curriculum, and tests.

An emerging thread here is frustration that the two manifesti (let’s just try a twisted sort of Italian plural here, OK?) are being portrayed as “liberal” and “conservative.” One of the signers of the counter-manifesto leaves a comment in the box to this effect. The headline on my blog post yesterday probably fueled some of this annoyance, as headlines are all-too-often wont to do, by being too short for necessary subtlety. My story tried to explain it better, noting that the group is made up mostly of conservatives.

While I appreciate the distinctions, it’s also true that the political orientations of the organizing forces behind the two manifesti are in fact distinct. Does that make them “liberal” or “conservative” arguments? That’s up to you to decide. Sure, there is some “diversity” in the signatories on each list. How diverse those lists are is another matter left to your judgment. But each camp claimed its list represented a diverse spectrum of views. And I’ve heard some cranky, muttered comments about those claims.

Bill Evers, one of the organizers of Manifesto #2, sent this blog post around yesterday with his own description: “Another liberal for the anti-National Curriculum manifesto.”

The release of Manifesto #2 prompted celebratory music from those who have long been banging the drum against the standards, such as the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey. But with the exception of the Manifesto #1 organizers, common-core advocates were oddly silent, unless I missed a stretch of blogosphere.

It was a day for anti-common-core proclamations. Three of the signers of the counter-manifesto summed up their arguments in a piece for Capitol Hill’s widely read paper, The Hill. Jay Greene, one of the Manifesto #2 organizers, liked the sound of the “weasel words” quote he supplied for my story enough to expand on it in a blog post.

Our own Anthony Cody echoed the centralization concern in his Living in Dialogue blog, and Joanne Jacobs takes a calm, just-the-facts approach.

A couple of bloggers delved into the political ramifications of the dueling manifesti. Patrick Riccards gets pretty hot under the collar about a ring of forces converging around the common core, and Rick Hess sees the duality as a sign that the battle, over ESEA reauthorization and other things, has indeed been joined.

Jim Stergios, who has been a key crusader against common standards from his perch at the Pioneer Institute in Massachusetts, sees yesterday’s development—in combination with a few more, such as new threads of opposition in a few places, as I have reported—as a sign that “big cracks” have emerged in the common-standards consensus.

I’ll leave it to you to judge: Are there really big, sink-worthy cracks in this ship, or are the arguments nothing more than just good passionate disagreements in a country full of disagreeing people? Perhaps the ship sails on with a bit of water sloshing around in the hull?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.