Common Core has been the enemy du jour of the tea party these days — at least when partiers are not busy trying to defund Obamacare or failing to stop Medicare expansion here in Arizona.
For most Americans, Common Core means nothing, if polls are accurate. Most Americans, these polls claim, don’t even know what it is.
But tea partiers think they do. And they rail against it regularly.
Their fear is that Common Core federalizes education even more. And some partiers see an even more malicious motivation: An attempt by the United Nations to gain some hold on our students. No kidding.
Here in Arizona, State Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal’s been feeling the heat from his erstwhile buddies in the tea party, folks who subjected him to continuous and withering attacks. They argue that he supports the federal government taking over our schools’ curriculum.
Which, of course, isn’t true.
The main misconception the tea partiers have is that Common Core is a curriculum. It isn’t. It’s a set of math and English standards, by grade level, that in Arizona raise the bar, demanding more in-depth thinking from students.
Of course, I’ve argued in the past that good teachers always ask for more depth in their kids’ thinking, but if these standards help that goal, great.
What these standards don’t tell schools are which assignments to give, what literature to read, and what teaching methods to use. But they do require students to explain how they arrive at conclusions and for teachers to assess that reasoning and not just grade for a correct answer. And that requires more work from both kids and teachers.
Huppenthal’s tried — unsuccessfully, it appears — to correct the tea partiers’ misconceptions.
So now, he’s gonna try something different: Change the label.
If Huppenthal gets his way, the new standards will no longer be called “Common Core.” That label will be changed to “Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.”
Same standards, same sequence of skills taught. But new label!
As if changing the label will placate the partiers. Not only is his change in label kind of insulting to the partiers’ intelligence (Hey, I’ll change the label and fool them!), it suggests a second motivation behind Huppenthal’s behavior.
An election in 2014. One where he is up for reelection. And I’ll bet he fears a primary opponent, one from the tea party who can exploit their fears and defeat him in the primary. Which is entirely possible, even likely. And changing the label won’t change their perception of him.
However, what Huppenthal should worry about is the costs that come with Common Core, those costs being not only schools adopting different texts to meet those standards, but the millions needed to do the new testing that accompanies the program. The testing is to be done by computer, in part so that teachers get immediate feedback on their students’ abilities. The theory, of course, is that the faster the feedback, the more quickly teachers can help those students who are struggling.
Forget for a moment that good teachers can identify struggling students pretty quickly and can — if they have the class sizes that allow them to — give those students the help they need.
Huppenthal knows the state woefully has underfunded computers and other equipment for schools for years. He knows that most schools do not have the ability to do the kind of testing that Common Core asks.
So maybe he should be making the argument to the state legislature and the governor that they should adequately fund the schools to pay for the testing. Maybe Huppenthal should make the argument that the new testing will actually improve education here in our state, that the funding is necessary.
Simply changing the name of Common Core doesn’t do diddly.
• Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.