Common Core has taken libertarian activists by storm. FreedomWorks has organized a slew of protests against the standards. Think tanks like Heritage and Cato have bombarded its readership with material about why Common Core should be opposed. After spending some time with fellow libertarians talking about education reform, two unsettling facts have come to light: One, nobody seems to really know what Common Core is, and two, it’s a distraction from issues that really matter, namely school choice.
Common Core, which is short for the “Common Core State Standards Initiative,” aims to create English and math standards for K–12 in every state. It emphasizes critical thinking, reading comprehension, and math concepts. The program is unique because it allows states—and even countries—to compare test scores, unifying what can be expected at every grade level. Common Core was developed by non-government institutions but is now largely funded by the Gates Foundation and federal government.
What should make Common Core more appealing to free marketers than other standardized tests is that the teacher gets to design their own curricula. There are no assigned reading lists or institutionalized ways to learn math. For example, upon completing the 5th grade, students should be able to “link ideas within and across categories of information using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., in contrast, especially).” Teachers can impart the lesson any way they choose—from giving examples from a selected textbook to word games. At the end of the year, students have to demonstrate that they’ve learned this skill in a benchmark test.
Common Core is cost-effective for many states. While it’s not federally required, the program has been linked to other education programs, like Race to the Top, where struggling schools can prove themselves to receive additional government funding. The program also provides test development, scoring, and reporting, which states had previously paid for and developed themselves.
Common Core does not force kids to learn about evolution or climate change. It has nothing to do with sex education. Or God. Or ruining childhood. It’s been my experience that parents and concerned activists largely do not have the slightest idea what Common Core is, and because they’re undereducated, they’ve turned to hyperbolic claims and false accusations. I don’t want to see that in my movement.
Now let’s be clear: I do not support Common Core. But I don’t think it’s the coming of the anti-Christ either. In a country where we run under a public education system, it makes sense to be able to compare and rate schools for efficacy. Nobody wants to waste taxpayer dollars on a school that is failing its children.
That said, it’s clear to me that Common Core is a distraction from the real problem: the lack of school choice. Kids are born pre-assigned to a school, and the only ways a parent can change that child’s school designation are to uproot and move, pay for private school, or home school.
Common Core detracts from where concerned parents should really be putting their energy. Common Core is a logical step for educators in a nationalized school system. If parents really don’t want standardized education, they really shouldn’t be sending their kids to a public school. But I empathize for those who cannot afford alternatives, which is why I support school vouchers. School choice campaigns should be the reaction to Common Core. Instead of changing the system, introduce the ability to opt out.