There was plenty of vitriol and hyperbole going around the statehouse in the final few days of the session as conservatives made a last-minute attempt to block any public funds from being used to implement the Common Core standards in reading and math, and to prevent the State Board of Education from adopting the Next Generation Science Standards.
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, Republican from Shawnee, called Common Core a "dramatic centralization of authority over the nation's traditionally decentralized K-12 schools." And Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, a Geary County Republican, compared them to a Marxist-like effort at central government command and control of education.
That kind of rhetoric, in turn, prompted Rep. Julie Menghini, a Pittsburg Democrat, to label the anti-Common Core legislators paranoid.
“I’ve got an inside tip: invest in tinfoil,” Menghini was quoted as saying in the Topeka Capital-Journal, referring to the common "tinfoil hat" shorthand for paranoia and conspiracy theory. Thereafter, outside observers could follow much of the Kansas legislative debate on Twitter under the hashtag, #tinfoil, an area of conversation usually reserved for sports maniacs who think the referees or umpires are conspiring against their team.
It's probably safe to say, however, that as with most public policy debates, neither side of the Common Core debate has a monopoly on reason and enlightenment; nor is the other side completely deluded.
There are, in fact, intelligent arguments being made on both sides. So for those interested in doing a little more reading on the subject, here is a short list of better (and more easily digestible) discussions.
First, some pro-Common Core articles:
Can Academic Standards Boost Literacy and Close the Achievement Gap? A Brookings Institution paper by Ron Haskins, Richard Murnane, Isabel V. Sawhill and Catherine Snow. This offers a fairly objective description of how the Common Core standards came into being, and why.
BRT Letter to Republican National Committee Supporting Common Core State Standards, a letter by John Engler, former Republican governor of Michigan and now president of the Business Roundtable, arguing that the standards, "are critical to building and maintaining an American workforce that can compete in the global economy."
Myth v. Fact: Taking on the Tallest Tales about Common Core State Standards, a blog post from the Foundation for Excellence in Education, taking on some of the more extreme criticisms of Common Core.
And from some skeptics ...
Dispatches from a Nervous Common Core Observer: by Michael McShane of the American Enterprise Institute. This is an ongoing 10-part blog series in which McShane, a research fellow at the institute, lays out some well-reasoned concerns about the loss of local control and homogenization of education, as well as the challenges Common Core poses to textbook publishers and the school administrators who select and buy them.
The State of State Standards—and the Common Core—in 2010. This is a review by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that attempts to answer the question: Are the Common Core standards better than the old standards? Answer: Yes or no, depending on where you live. It includes links to lots of other articles both for and against the Common Core standards.
Morning Bell: Join the Fight Against Common Core, a blog post by Lindsey Burke, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. This article actually makes more use of platitudes and bumper-sticker slogans than evidence or argumentation. But it does put the debate into context as a competition for the "school choice" movement (think vouchers, charter schools, etc.) vs. greater investment in traditional public schools.
Opponents of the Common Core standards in reading and math haven't given up on their last-minute push to get something through the Kansas Legislature this year.
According to a story earlier today by Scott Rothschild, the Tea Party-affiliated group FreedomWorks sent out a call to its members, urging them to pressure the Legislature into cutting off funds to implement the Common Core.
This comes on the heels of a big anti-Common Core turnout at the Kansas State Board of Education last week where people urged the board to do an about-face on those standards, which are known locally as the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards.
And that came on the heels of a Statehouse rally the week before, just as lawmakers were returning for the wrap-up session.
According to Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker, similar campaigns are being waged in at least 16 other states as well:
In Alabama, at least four anti-Common Core bills have been introduced in the Legislature. At least one bill has been introduced in Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.
Meanwhile, anti-Common Core rallies and forums have been staged in Colorado, Florida and Tennessee.
And in Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, New York and Ohio, education officials are reporting other kinds of active anti-Common Core rumblings.
Based on comments made at the state board meeting last week, much of the opposition is based not on the content of the standards, but on a shared perception that the standards represent a form of federal intrusion into state matters.
But when I asked DeBacker about it last week, she said the latest criticism was all a bit frustrating.
On the one hand, she noted, the State Department of Education is constantly targeted for criticism by Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, which uses data based on the old, pre-Common Core standards to show that Kansas has low academic standards compared with other states, never mentioning that the standards have been changed since then to address those very concerns.
And then, when Kansas collaborates with other states to come up with higher educational standards designed to prepare students for college and the workforce in a global marketplace, DeBacker said, they get criticized by other groups who say such collaboration represents "federal intrusion" into state matters.