As California's educators and policymakers figure out how to implement new Common Core standards, opposition to them is growing nationally. Some of it is a natural response to change that should dissipate as people learn more. Some of it comes from those who object to perpetuating the nation's reliance on high-stakes standardized tests -- an argument that, at least for now, has been lost.
But the really intense opposition, fueled by tea party groups, is based on myths and is potentially damaging to the country. It's forcing leaders, teachers and administrators to focus on defending the Common Core system, rather than on the enormously important work of implementing it.
In about a dozen states so far, these groups are trying to slow down or stop Common Core, arguing that it's a top-down mandate, developed in secret, that unconstitutionally expands the reach of the federal government and takes local control from schools. They say little or nothing about the content. Their arguments, really, boil down to this: President Barack Obama likes Common Core, so it must be an abomination.
The Common Core State Standards were developed by a bipartisan group of governors and state school chiefs who thought their own standards were too low, leaving students unprepared and businesses without qualified workers. Many Republican leaders, including Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, are strong Common Core supporters. The standards were debated openly and adopted by all but five states.
The standards in English language arts and math lay out what every child needs to know in every grade to be competitive with peers internationally, and they are more rigorous than the vast majority of what they replaced. They're designed to help youngsters learn how to think, explore, experiment and analyze -- not just memorize -- and to build on knowledge from year to year. The standards will improve the nation's schools and economic competitiveness, which is why Obama and his Education Department encouraged states to adopt them.
But they are only standards. Each state must develop curricula to teach to the standards and tests to ensure students are learning the material. Districts and schools are doing some of this work, with lots of public discussion. Some states have already begun testing; California is scheduled to start in 2014-15.
Concerns about curricula and testing are worth public discussion. That's why states such as California have a transparent process with public participation (go to cde.ca.gov/re/cc to find out more).
Tea party worries are primarily the result of opposition to Obama and irrational fears of festering tyranny. State and school officials need to get beyond them and focus on the hard work of raising educational achievement for American children.