Now that Gov. Bobby Jindal is actually engaging the Legislature in his fight against the Common Core (mis-)educational standards, it’s time for a refresher course on why the standards are so misguided.
First, though, there’s this: Some usual Jindal allies, such as Speaker Chuck Kleckley, say they particularly object to Jindal’s idea of reverting back (temporarily) to the testing regime of the old Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, which the state used for two decades before the state’s board of education fell prey to the airy groupthink of Common Core. But why? What was wrong with LEAP? For years Louisiana pointed to LEAP as a tremendously successful reform.
Indeed, Louisiana’s performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress improved markedly from the early 1990s, when LEAP was first fully implemented, through 2011: by 26 and 27 points, respectively, in fourth- and eighth-grade math, and by seven and six points in fourth- and eighth-grade reading. Plus, the “achievement gap” between white and black students had been steadily narrowing — a very good sign.
That said, let’s get back to Common Core. It’s god-awful. Let us count the ways.
First: The standards themselves are written like gobbledygook, full of passages such as ones calling for students in arithmetic “to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved.”
Second: The math standards emphasize process not just to the same extent as results, but to the detriment of results, by encouraging teachers to give lower grades for correct answers if students don’t show the mind-bogglingly silly steps of “reasoning” stressed by the Core.
Third: The process itself is counterproductive. It “complicates the simplest of math problems,” writes expert Barry Garelick for The Atlantic and also delays instruction of some key, basic concepts until several grade levels later.
Fourth: Its writing standards promote horrendously substandard logic. Renowned humanities professor Anthony Esolen argues that the Core in effect supports writing “by formula,” which he says is “bad writing” that “is dishonest and keeps company with ruffians and fools: vagueness, muddle, ostentation, self-promotion and concealment.”
Fifth: While its “exemplars” for reading material aren’t technically part of the standards themselves, they are officially recommended — and they include disgustingly inappropriate material including graphic descriptions of sex and masturbation, along with one book featuring child molestation told sympathetically through the eyes of the molester.
Sixth: The reading standards substitute nonfiction for fiction in a truly unwise way that both harms creativity and, seventh — as noted in an essay by James Madison’s most comprehensive biographer, Ralph Ketcham — perversely harms the rigorous understanding of history, as well.
Eighth: The Core will lead to a deadly, one-size-fits-all approach to education, when what is needed is more innovation and competition.
Ninth: Common Core not only invites illegal, curricular interference by the federal government (as Jindal has rightly argued), but actually has led to such interference and could well do so again. (To understand how, see a 2012 Pioneer Institute study by two former top lawyers of the U.S. Department of Education, titled “The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers.”)
Eleventh: Plenty of parents don’t just dislike it, but hate it with a fierce passion. Parents should be trusted to know better than bureaucrats what is best for their own children.
Twelfth: So do plenty of teachers, including some really, really good ones, including national award winners. The school reform journal “Education Next” reported poll results last summer showing that fewer than half of teachers nationwide now support the Core.
Legislators defending Common Core, usually without even a clue of what it contains, are siding with equally clueless but strong-arming business lobbyists against the vociferous opposition of growing pluralities, or in many cases majorities, of their constituents. Gov. Jindal is doing legislators a favor by pushing them to reconsider. If they don’t, voters this fall will likely, and quite rightly, boot them unceremoniously from office.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs. theadvocate.com/quin-essential.