Those academic standards, which mostly raise the bar for students and teachers, requiring more critical thinking and less rote memorization, were adopted by Ariziona a few years ago.
Enthusiastically adopted. The governor likes them. The business community adores them. Most teachers applaud them. And until they became controversial, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal embraced them.
But then, as we came closer to the actual implementation of the standards in all grades?
Here came the Crazies.
The craziest of the Right Wing Crazies see something evil in Common Core: An attempt by the United Nations to infiltrate our schools with their socialistic mind control of our unsuspecting kids.
I’m not making this up.
So those folks believe the worst about the standards. But the Less Crazy are against them, too, but for a different reason.
Federal control of Arizona schools.
They believe that Common Core — supported by the Obama administration, with money given to states that adopted the standards — is the first step in the federal takeover of local schools.
The firestorm is so great that the governor and Huppenthal renamed Common Core, as if the Crazies wouldn’t notice.
Here in Arizona, the Crazies have introduced numerous bills in the Legislature to reverse our state’s use of Common Core.
So far, one of the bills has been defeated, mainly because the handful of sane Republicans voted against it, but other bills are pending.
But let’s be honest here. There’s one reason the Crazies oppose Common Core: Barack Obama.
Their loathing of Obama is so great that anything he supports must be opposed. Even if it is something the Crazies used to support.
Oh, yes, years ago, when the state implemented the AIMS standards — standards, by the way, that wrested local control of education from school districts — the most enthusiastic supporters of those standards were some of the same Crazies that oppose Common Core today.
The Crazies either misunderstand Common Core or intentionally deceive the rest of us about the nature of the standards. They confuse standards with curriculum.
Common Core are the skills we want our kids to display at each grade level in math, reading and writing. But they don’t have a single specific lesson or material or assignment required of any teacher. They do suggest some readings — the Constitution, the Declaration, The Gettysburg Address, and the “I Have a Dream” speech — but they leave the lessons and the methods teachers use to impart those lessons in the hands of the teachers themselves.
So the Crazies find some ridiculous lesson some teacher somewhere has used and point to it as what Common Core is all about, which is silly. The teacher who came up with the goofy lesson created that himself, since no one will find that lesson anywhere in the Common Core standards. Bad lessons have been around long before Common Core emerged.
Right now, the Crazies seem to be driving the debate, which is all too typical, but the rest of us should be concerned with more pressing matters:
Has the state done enough to train the teachers in teaching these standards?
Has the state provided enough funding for texts and materials that are Common Core friendly?
Are we rushing the testing for a game-changing set of standards into the classroom too quickly?
That last question is an important one. Common Core standards are built like a scaffold, with one year’s skills being the foundation for the next. But we’ve only really had these standards in all Arizona grades for a year. So we’ve yet to see that scaffolding applied to high school students. Yet, within a year, we’re going to test those students using a test that assumes that scaffolding is in place, when it’s far too early to make that assumption.
The same thing happened when Arizona instituted the AIMS standards. We rushed to test when kids hadn’t had the opportunity to have years of learning under those standards. And combined with a flawed test, that rush led to results that initially were so dismal the state quickly watered the test down, lowered passing scores, and eventually gave students a way to graduate without even passing the tests.
The kind of change in education Common Core should lead to is potentially dramatic. The question is how the drama ends: a success or another farce? The Crazies seem hellbent on farce; the rest of us should be patient and hope that the rush to test is slowed.
• Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.