Michigan was one of 45 states which adopted “Common Core” standards back in 2010. The standards are aimed at setting out the kinds of skills that will qualify kids to successfully meet 21st century challenges, both in post-secondary education and fulfilling careers.
There are a lot of fast-growing myths about these standards. But the fact is, Common Core does not define what specific courses should be taught. Rather, their goal is that, after graduating from high school, everyone should be able to:
--Use technology strategically in learning and communicating.
--Use argument and reasoning to do research, construct arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
--Communicate effectively with a variety of audiences.
--Solve problems, construct explanations and design solutions.
All this sounds great to me … and to state leaders ranging from Gov. Rick Snyder to Business Leaders for Michigan CEO Doug Rothwell. Whether you are a believer in education for education’s sake or an advocate for job market-aware learning, the Common Core standards focus on what capabilities young people need to master for success in the real world.
Everyone needs standards, and the ability to measure progress, and In that sense, Common Core represents a valuable accountability test for Michigan schools. We spend around $10 billion each year on our school system. That’s a whale of a lot of money!
(Editor's Note & Correction: The originally posted version of Phil Power's column incorrectly stated that "We spend around $10 billion each year on our school system." In fact, the Senate Fiscal Agency reports the FY2012-13 adjusted gross appropriation for the Michigan School Aid Fund at $12.944 billion with another $328.9 million adjusted gross appropriation for the Michigan Department of Education. Further, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that Michigan had $19.79 billion in total elementary and secondary education expenditures from all federal, state, local and other funding sources in 2009-10, the most recent year for which NCES reports the data. Phil Power regrets the error.)
So having common standards that most other states also use gives us a benchmark and some way to determine whether we’re getting our money’s worth.
Critics go political
Not surprisingly perhaps, this idea has plenty of critics on both the right and the left. For example, Freedom Works, a right-leaning national outfit, charges the standards are “Largely a product of the 2009 stimulus plan Democrats passed in Congress … a bureaucratic, top-down program heavily influenced by special interests.”
State Rep, Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, a right-leaner in the Legislature, has introduced a bill that would bar the state from implementing the standards in 2014, as is now called for.
Though he didn’t return a call last week asking for an explanation for his opposition, McMillin’s beef seems to center around the idea that it would “nationalize education” by undermining state sovereignty, locally elected school boards and parental control over what kids learn.
Nice theory, but it’s hard to see just why states still need to be sovereign over what skills kids need to have when they enter a job market that is now national in scope -- and increasingly international. Local school boards in Texas might believe all kids ought to know in detail about the Alamo, while Michigan schools might stress Babe the Blue Ox. But I seriously doubt the folks at Google will find any of that competitive advantage when picking whom to hire.
Most of the parents I meet who are the loudest in complaining about erosion of parental authority are concerned either about politics (They don’t like that the curriculum doesn’t stress “conservative” principles) or personal morality, despite the fact that abstinence is included as an option in virtually all sex education courses.
Critics from the left seem mostly worried about getting caught out when accountability measures are on the table. Some school boards and teacher unions don’t like the idea of being held accountable -- not for some standardized test score, but for kids actually having a portfolio of usable skills when they leave school.
Indeed, Rothwell’s Business Leaders for Michigan has sent letters to the chairs of both the Senate and House Appropriations committees expressing support for the Common Core. “The standards are not a curriculum,” the letter points out, “they only specify what students should know and be able to do in each grade and by the end of high school to be career and college ready.”
BLM sets out a compelling case for quality education: Between now and 2018, 80 percent of the highest-paying, most in-demand jobs in Michigan will require at least an associate, or two-year, degree.
By 2025, Michigan will need 900,000 more workers with an associate degree or higher to fill available jobs. And those with higher levels of education earn more and are less likely to be unemployed.
The opposition to Common Core standards is yet another example of a growing national trend of adults (particularly those serving in state legislatures) imposing their ideological preferences on schools and the skills that kids need to succeed in later life.
I used to run newspapers to make a living, and have looked at plenty of balance sheets, but I’ve never seen a column headed “Ideological Conformity.” Common Core standards are nothing more than an attempt to make sure our kids have the dollars-and-cents skills necessary to compete in a world that’s more competitive every day.
Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.