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Common Core and common sense


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Don't know much about algebra. Don't know much about a science book, or the French I took. Sure don't know much about Common Core either, at least by professional standards.

But I can make some educated guesses. If our governor and legislature are "agin it," then there's a fair chance it's intellectual, international, secular and given to critical thinking and creativity.

Compared to the academic record of Indiana's politicians, Sam Cooke's plaintive C student was at the head of his class. And Sam's claim to be all about love carries far more credibility than these guys' pious declarations of devotion to Indiana's future leaders.

After a near-decade of attacking the most credentialed (that is, unionized) teachers, diluting qualification standards, trashing colleges of education, siphoning funds away from the public schools that carry the brunt of the education load, letting cronies in the private sector help slice up the school budget pie, waging partisan political war against the duly elected state education chief and trying to supplant the science book with the Good Book, the state's Republican rulers now claim to know better than their counterparts in 45 others, who have agreed to adopt Common Core.

Hoosier standards will be higher standards, Gov. Mike Pence promises. We can trust him on this, or we can hear the echoes of "O look! Everybody's out of step but Johnny!"

Irony abounds here. First of all, our kids are actually pretty bright; more so, I'd argue, than the people their parents elected.

Indiana students don't perform poorly at all in relation to their peers elsewhere, according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress. And they weren't performing poorly when erstwhile state schools superintendent Tony Bennett and then-Gov. Mitch Daniels declared the state's schools a general wreck that they were going to test and punish into shape.

Schools generally get the job done, mostly in spite of the politicians. The exceptions are those serving impoverished populations, and those tend to get spite from the politicians rather than the antidote to poverty, i.e., money.

Common Core will not change, or would not have changed, these realities. Nor will, or would, Indiana's home-cooked standards. Teachers, who seem to be the last to be consulted in the hopelessly politicized realm of education policy, will plug away and draw the willing to the well as they have through countless previous "reform" sieges.

Another irony: Indiana truly was a leader in education accountability standards as of a couple decades ago, when a bipartisan legislature, a Democratic governor (Frank O'Bannon) and a Republican schools superintendent (Suellen Reed) were formulating and implementing Public Law 221. The Bush administration's No Child Left Behind (once a bipartisan effort to save inner-city children) turned out to exemplify what many Common Core critics fear: the feds making a big mess of small beauties.

Yet somehow, we do need national measures of how our kids are doing, even if the comparisons to Chinese and Scandinavian kids tend to be apples and oranges. One more irony about Common Core is that it's stirred hostility across the spectrum - on the right, from phobia about Washington and especially this president; and from the left, because it's been driven to a great extent by the testing industry, which has made a killing from "reform" and shovels a fortune into election campaigns to keep the magic numbers atop the priority list. Reconciliation toward useful national norms will be about as easy as my getting an A in organic chemistry.

Meanwhile, teachers will report for duty; those who haven't been scared away from the vocation by this toxic climate, anyway. Resigned to carping and kibitzing from demagogues who don't know much about pedagogy, they'll breathe a sigh of relief that the doctor to whom they take their headache after work at least gets his instructions from other doctors.

Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, contributor to Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of "Indiana Out Loud."


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