By Doug Lasken
Many education activists were high-fiving in September when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney finally attacked President Obama’s signature education initiative, the Common Core State Standards. It was a long time coming, though it hasn’t quite come yet.
The Common Core standards are national academic standards that will replace the often shoddy and substandard standards (if that’s not an oxymoron) of the 45 states and District of Columbia that have approved adoption. As someone who consulted for the Fordham and Pioneer Institutes on assessing the states’ English Language Arts standards in the run-up to Common Core, I can attest that many states have abominable ELA standards in which, often, a functionally illiterate student can be certified proficient in reading. Ironically, one of the causes of such shoddy state standards is the federal government’s last major attempt at reform, the Bush-era No Child Left Behind initiative, which enacted harsh penalties for states whose students do not test proficient in reading and math. The bar was set impossibly high, culminating in the Lake Wobegon-esque requirement that all children test proficient in reading and math by 2014. It should be no surprise that many states reacted to this unrealistic demand by degrading their standards to the point that the definition of “proficiency” would be low enough to escape the Department of Education’s ideological fervor.