Read these two statements and see what your reaction is:
- A Kansas state representative hopes to stop the common core in its tracks.
- A Kansas state representative who is leading the fight to set aside the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards admits that he hasn’t read them.
Your reaction probably depends a lot on where you stand on a key question: whether the federal government’s ardent embrace of the standards amounts to an overstepping of authority.
We saw this play out in an intriguing way over the weekend. Two news outlets reported the same story quite differently, each capitalizing on one of the two angles I offered you at the top of this post.
Exhibit number one: the Lawrence Journal-World, which reported that Willie Dove, a Republican who represents northeastern Kansas, is one of the big advocates of a bill that would revoke the state’s adoption of the common standards and also the Next Generation Science Standards.
“While testing officials at Kansas University are busy developing new reading and math assessments for students to take this year, one northeast Kansas lawmaker is trying to halt the project in its tracks,” the newspaper said in the first paragraph of the story.
Exhibit number two: the Associated Press version of the story. AP spotted something in the sixth paragraph of the Journal-World story and made it the first paragraph.
“An eastern Kansas Republican who is the main proponent of a House measure that would nullify common core reading and math standards in the state admits he hasn’t read what’s in them.”
And therein lies one of the most interesting—and potentially disturbing, at least to some—aspects of the debate around the common standards: to what extent is opposition based on the content of the standards themselves—what they actually expect students to know and do—and to what extent is it based on things that have nothing to do with content, such as the federal government’s role in getting states to adopt them?
For Dove, it seems, it’s clearly about the latter, since he didn’t read the standards. He told the World Journal:
“I do not believe it is within the scope of our federal government to put something together when it comes to education.”
Dove has company in some sectors, to be sure. There has been a lot of publicity given to those who feel that the federal government’s offering of incentives—such as points to help win the Race to the Top competition, and its funding of tests designed for the standards—constitutes a violation of laws that bar the feds from mandating local education decisions.
To this, the creators of the standards repeatedly point out that while the U.S. Department of Education has encouraged the adoption of the standards, that’s a far cry from writing them, mandating them, or “putting them together,” as Dove says.
To be sure, there have been critics who have dived into the content of the standards and come up with judgments about their quality and appropriateness. But those kinds of debates are not the ones getting top billing in the aisles of state legislatures, which have the power to protect or destroy academic standards, even though the authority to adopt them typically lies with state boards of education or state chiefs.
So, as many state legislatures around the country decide the fate of the standards this year, it will be interesting to see how much of those decisions are about what children should actually learn, and how much is about the real—or perceived—role the federal government played in creating those standards.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.