The continuing debate over the adoption of Common Core standards for Kansas public schools offers considerable evidence of why state education policy should be insulated from political agendas.
The leading criticism of the Common Core standards in Kansas is that they represent yet another power grab by the federal government, which is trying to diminish states’ authority to maintain their own educational standards. The critics are not swayed by the fact that the Common Core is not a federal program but rather a project of the National Governors Association and the Council of State School Officers. Their goal was to develop curriculum standards that would prepare students nationwide for college and work.
All but a handful of states already had adopted the standards, while, in Kansas, legislators still were trying to figure out a way to block the implementation of the math and English standards adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education in 2010 and the adoption of the science standards, which took place last week.
Legislative efforts to stymie the Common Core didn’t conclude until the Kansas House failed to pass the measure just before lawmakers passed a budget and went home. Opponents contended that implementing the common standards would be expensive and disruptive. On the contrary, after working for more than two years to implement the standards, most schools would have incurred more expense and disruption by being forced to change directions.
Throughout the debate, opponents were unable to articulate any academic reasons for rejecting the Common Core. Their argument was based more on values, especially as they relate to the science curriculum and its handling of evolution and climate change. In fact, the final bill, which was approved by the Senate and rejected by the House, would have established a new legislative oversight committee that would have been charged with advising the Legislature on whether the Common Core and science standards reflect the “educational values” of the state.
Wouldn’t want to leave that decision up to the education professionals and the elected board that oversees the Department of Education.
During last week’s school board meeting, a military spouse whose family moves frequently, cited the advantages of having curriculum standards that crossed state lines. Her rationale seems to apply to many families in our increasingly mobile society, as well as to Kansas high school graduates hoping to attend universities in other states.
Perhaps the only valid concern in this debate is that adopting Common Core standards somehow will diminish the quality of education in Kansas public schools. One private institute last week said the new Kansas science standards were a step backward. However, many Kansas teachers are enthusiastic about the new standards, which, they say, help students learn through hands-on experience.
Kansas always has placed a high priority on education. That’s something the state needs to preserve. Common Core standards provide a base for student achievement but they don’t define what should be a far more challenging and comprehensive curriculum in Kansas schools.