Monday, March 24, 2014

Big business promotes Common Core education standards, which are dividing Republicans

The Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign March 16 seeking conservatives' support for the Common Core State Standards in education by emphasizing their eventual benefits. The campaign includes TV spots and online ads featuring teachers expressing approval of the Common Core. The "campaign . . . aims to undercut dire tea-party warnings that the standards amount to a federal power grab, akin to Obamacare," Stephanie Simon reports for Politico.

The Common Core, designed by states and accepted by 45 of them, comprises a list of standards for students' learning each year and is supposed to help better prepare them for college. It has faced considerable opposition, especially from tea-party activists. Primarily in deep-red states, thousands of business owners and executives are telling state lawmakers that the standards will improve the workforce and result in superior economy. "We're telling the legislature that this is our No. 1 issue," said Todd Sanders, CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. "We will be watching."

According to a poll by Achieve Inc., which helped write the standards, "Nearly four in 10 voters still know 'nothing at all' about the Common Core," Simon reports. "Those who are aware of the Common Core tilt toward opposing it: 40 percent view the standards unfavorably, while 37 percent back them. That’s a sharp reversal from Achieve’s last national poll, in May 2012, when those aware of the standards tended to like them, with 'favorable' beating 'unfavorable' by a solid margin of 42 percent to 28 percent."

The campaign has already won some battles, including stopping bills that would have impeded the Common Core in Georgia and in Arizona. However, Indiana enacted a law today to opt out of the standards, and "Bills to undermine the Common Core are pending in at least a half-dozen other states as well," Simon writes. Tea-party activists say "The business community's tactics will backfire by stoking populist outrage against the Common Core and its raft of powerful, establishment supporters," Simon writes. Arizona state Sen. Al Melvin said, "They're not going to affect me, and I don't think they're going to affect any others. I'm a businessman. But sometimes, these chambers of commerce get it wrong." (Read more)

One of the main debates surrounding the Common Core issue is standardized testing, which has both changed and increased with the implementation of the standards. Oklahoma "State Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, said most of the criticism he has received from teachers and administrators in his district has centered on too many tests being required rather than the standard itself," Randy Ellis and Tim Willert write for The Oklahoman. (Read more) In Tennessee, a move to drop Common Core had been deferred because writing a separate test would cost an estimated $10 million. Indiana has estimated its cost at $30 million.

The Tennessee case was among those dividing Republicans at the state level, and the divide has also appeared at the national level. Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, both presidential hopefuls, have sponsored legislation banning federal funding of any Common Core component, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is mulling the 2016 race, hails the standards, reports Bill Barrow of The Associated Press.  IN Tennessee last week, at at event with Common Core defender Gov. Bill Haslam, Bush said, "This is a real-world, grown-up approach to a real crisis that we have, and it's been mired in politics." (Read more)

The debate has revived an old one about whether the results of such assessments should be used to measure teacher performance, Alyson Klein writes for Education Week. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that although "states' priority should be to use test-score data to identify top performing teachers and not to punish low-performing educators," that isn't the idea behind the federal policy. The department has actually specified its desire for student-assessment performance to influence teacher evaluations. (Read more)

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