Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC—the conservative states’ rights, free markets, and limited government advocacy group—are meeting today in North Carolina, where they are expected to adopt a resolution that will be used as model legislation aimed at derailing the Common Core Standards for state primary and secondary schools.
Perplexingly, there has been a steady drumbeat of opposition to what most clear-thinking folks see as a key to America’s future success in a highly competitive global economy—these same Common Core Standards. Developed by a consortium of educators and state lawmakers in 2009 in response to fears that American education performance is slipping relative to many advanced countries, these voluntary standards aim to ensure children are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in college and in their careers. By setting high-quality standards in reading and math, the goal is to provide a common understanding of what students are expected to know during their kindergarten-through-12th-grade educational experiences.
Today’s expected vote in opposition to the Common Core Standards by the hyperaggressive and hyperregressive ALEC in a fashion mirrors a day 49 years ago next month. On June 11, 1963, George Wallace, the “segregation now, tomorrow, and forever” governor of Alabama, stood defiantly in the door of the University of Alabama’s Foster Auditorium blocking the entry of two black students in symbolic opposition to the integration of Alabama’s schools.
ALEC, apparently channeling the politically belligerent and bullying Wallace of that year, is standing squarely in the way of meaningful school reform, clearly determined to turn back the clock to a time when the hopes of dreams of millions were routinely and summarily dismissed.
Just like in Alabama—where the goal was to thwart the aspirations of black students by denying them a quality education and, as a result, access to the American promise—ALEC too, by its actions, seeks to hinder the academic aspirations of public school students, a significant number of whom are from communities of color with limited means. Just as Wallace sought to maintain an unfair status quo that relegated African Americans to second-class citizenship and to the attendant deprivations associated with that status, ALEC too is intent on holding back all of America’s public school students, and low-income students in particular, in fidelity to its states’ rights agenda.
It is well documented that low-income, at-risk children who are denied a high-quality education are more likely to drop out of school, become addicted to drugs, have children out of wedlock, be unemployed, and end up in prison. As a consequence, these negative consequences of a poor education perpetuate the cycle of generational poverty.
The Common Core Standards were developed to effectively address these negative outcomes by focusing on the power of a high-quality education, informed by rigorous standards, to lift individuals out of poverty.
Just as importantly, the Common Core Standards replace a hodgepodge of state standards of varying quality and consistency. At a time of great international competition and great mobility of our students across state borders, we need to be much more strategic and targeted in our approach to educating our people to the highest standards—not just relying on what type of education they happen to get in the place that they happen to live at the moment. The Common Core represents an affirmation of where this country wants to go and how we want to get there.
Acknowledging the need for “college and career-ready” standards, the Obama administration favorably factored in the adoption of the Common Core by states competing for a share of Race to the Top funding. College and career readiness is one of four reform goals set out by Race to the Top, the others being improving teacher effectiveness, support for the lowest-performing schools, and establishing Pre-K to college and career data systems.
Apparently, that is one of many issues ALEC has with the Common Core. The group claims the use of the Common Core, which has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, is nothing less than a power grab by a federal government determined to run every aspect of our lives.
That’s just one of the many falsehoods about the Common Core Standards being advanced by ALEC. As the Common Core State Standards Initiative highlights in “Myths vs. Facts” on its website, “The federal government will not govern the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Initiative was and will remain a state-led effort.”
Further, as Theodora Chang, Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress, points out in her column on our sister website ThinkProgress, in opposing the Common Core, ALEC fails to acknowledge the problems with our current education system—a system where in 2011 only 35 percent of eighth graders scored at the “proficient” level or above on math, and only a third of eighth-grade students scored at the “proficient” level or above in reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam.
If there is a plus to ALEC’s Gov. Wallace-like stance against the Common Core, it’s that it keeps the issue of education reform front and center in the national spotlight where it belongs. As we stated in our seminal 2005 Education Task Force report:
The federal government should support the crafting, adoption, and promotion of voluntary, rigorous national curriculum standards in core subject areas so that students can succeed in every academic setting and in the national and global marketplaces. It should also expand national accountability measures and assist low-performing schools and districts. It should initiate a national conversation about not only the importance of standards and accountability but also the need for paying sufficiently and equitably for public schooling, including modern and safe facilities, from pre-school to college.
Now is not the time to block progress in education reform, but to instead replicate the best efforts coming out of the Common Core and to build upon those successes.
Carl Chancellor is a Senior Editor at the Center for American Progress who works closely with the Education team at the Center.