The question from the audience to Virginia Walden-Ford, at an Aug. 1 Nevada Policy Research Institute luncheon where the Friedman Foundation board member and school choice activist was speaking, was direct. Do you support Common Core? The answer was just as direct. “No. I do not want children from central Arkansas to have to take the same tests as children from Chicago do.”
Walden-Ford’s response summed up the grassroots reaction to Common Core nicely. National testing standards is losing to a real fear that those standards, instead of being uplifting, will disadvantage local students and favor students in another location.
At the luncheon, a woman rose to defend Common Core. She argued for standardized testing. But the women I was with were shaking their heads in disagreement. They all identified as very conservative, saying they only stay in the Republican Party so they can vote in the primaries. They see voting for very conservative candidates in the Republican primary, even if they lose in the more moderate general, as their only real voice in the party. They are not happy with Republicans who support Common Core. The woman defending Common Core suggested they get organized and talk to their representatives. But they just shook their heads again: “They never listen to us.”
If the opposition to Common Core, the Obama administration’s offspring of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind, were confined to the most conservative of Nevada parents it might be dismissed. But there is a coalition of left and right that is galvanizing around opposition to Common Core. When President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan tied federal stimulus money disguised as Race to the Top prize money to Common Core standardized testing results, that drew a line in the sand. Teacher’s unions accept almost any money except when it holds its members accountable for student outcomes. Now the teachers unions oppose Common Core.
Common Core started out as a state governors’ initiative and in 2010, when the first test results came out, no one was objecting very much. Now, just four years later, Common Core is on the ropes. When the Obama administration turned it from a Governors’ Initiative to a Department of Education program, Republican opposition went up immediately. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who has national ambitions, turned from supporter to opponent. Nevada’s Superintendent of Education, Dale Erquiaga (R), still stubbornly supports Common Core.
What we may be seeing is growing opposition to the public education establishment. Public school reform fatigue is setting in. The object of school reform is always more school reform, without much results while spending enormous amounts of money. Americans may be feeling that just as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cost the nation enormously with little results, the increased spending on education has become another expensive rabbit hole that has produced no measurable results. Local control of education is built into the American psyche and all these reforms seem very abstract and out of touch with Johnny and Jill’s actual needs.
Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has called for a moratorium on holding teachers accountable for test results. While Bill Gates is becoming like a geeky homegrown George Soros for the billion dollars he spent on education over the last few years, the real reason to oppose Common Core is that it is just another example of why the underlying premise of public education is a bad model in the first place. Universal, free, compulsory public education will always be riddled with the same problems all bureaucracies suffer from: Lack of competition and market-based innovation.