Is Common Core a political issue? At least in Texas it is…


Every couple of weeks we see new national headlines about the Common Core State Standards.  However, some states, like Texas have refused to adopt these standards, although they are required by federal law.  How are the states able to do this, and why are some choosing to do so?  And is this a political issue or an education issue?

So to answer these questions, let’s remember that items not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution are left up to the states to decide and manage.  Education is one of these issues.  The federal government has no constitutional authority over states regarding education.  However, the U.S. government does have one thing all states are wanting more of…money.  So with all of these national education reforms/movements, the federal government cannot force states to participate, but can reward those who do with additional federal monies.  This is where the politics comes in.

But let’s go back to the standards momentarily.  Years ago, a high achieving student could move from one state to another and either be: way ahead of the new school, about on level at the new school, or way behind at the new school.  Often, the student was either way ahead or way behind because the state standards were so different from state to state.  Some higher achieving states were significantly ahead of some of the lower achieving states and one could simply look at the standards, what was expected in each grade, to understand why.  So the federal government wanted to normalize the standards so the states would be more equal.  Generally, the federal government erred on the side of the more challenging standards, bringing the lower ones up, rather than vice versa.  Thus in 2009, during President Obama’s administration, the Common Core State Standards were launched.

So here is where the politicians get involved.  Most of the states quickly adopted the new standards and were granted access to the additional funds.  However, small minority of the states were slower to respond and some have refused even to this day, seven years later.  Specifically, in Texas, where the Common Core standards have yet to be adopted, political leaders claim so much money was spent on the Texas standards (TEKS) that they do not need Common Core.  Other Texas leaders point to wanting less federal oversight over a state’s rights (education), so they refuse to adopt, and some Republicans have publicly vowed to fight any legislation President Obama tries to pass.

However, what about the actual standards?  The Common Core standards are very similar to the TEKS.  There are few differences here and there, for example personal finance in math (which is included in the TEKS, but not Common Core) or in which grades specific skills are covered (money is covered in 2nd grade in Common Core but introduced in Kindergarten in TEKS), but overall, they are more similar than different.  The kinds of expectations and what the students are able to do are very similar by the end of the process, high school graduation.

In conclusion, I do not feel this should be a political issue.  It seems that too often politicians, depending on which side of the aisle he or she falls on, dictates their view on this.  This should be an issue of education, and which serves our children better.  Both sets of standards have their strengths and weaknesses, and blanket statements about either are not productive nor helpful.  Texas could desperately use additional federal funds to help fund education, so let’s keep in mind what’s important, not federal or state control, but student achievement.  I’m not advocating for Common Core adoption in states that have not adopted them, in fact, I would oppose that.  However, let’s at least examine both without bias or pre-judgement and implement the best teaching practices and standards for our students.  No matter who developed them or where they came from.  All students deserve the best we, as a society, can give them.