Bill Keller has a column in The Times this morning about Common Core. It’s the kind of column that shows up in your inbox a dozen times before your second cup of coffee because everyone is sending it around so happy that it righteously makes their case. It should be circulated for a different reason: It’s illustrative of the political jam the Common Core is in and highlights the problem rather than the way out.
For starters, the barely hidden argument is that many conservatives are ignorant, or at best favoring policies that foster ignorance. That’s feel good partisan stuff but a lousy way to win an argument. In this case, New York Times columnists telling them they’re stupid merely refinforces Tea Party opposition to the standards. Politically, if you want to convince people that the Common Core isn’t some Washington-hatched plan then it would probably be helpful if you had examples of support that were not basically the Washington chattering class, most of whom don’t move the needle within the Beltway, let alone around the country. Substantively, it might be useful to point out that some of the critics are thoughtful and make points worth considering, even if you don’t agree with them (in general I don’t).
In addition, while conservatives are a big problem on the Core so is the left and that’s part of the story here. It’s easy to point out the excesses of the Glenn Becks and Michelle Malkins of the world as Keller does, that basically writes itself. But in case you haven’t been paying attention there isn’t a big clamor for the new standards (and especially not the accompanying tests) on the political left. In some of the states Keller cites as places the Core is in jeopardy pushback from the left is shaping the field as much as pushback from the right. If Common Core unravels it won’t just be because of one end of the political spectrum, it’ll be the classic right-left opposition to school reform that has doomed previous efforts.
The column that Common Core supporters should want to see is the one highlighting examples of how local civic and business leaders have decided that educational mediocrity is a problem and that while neither perfect nor a stand-alone reform, the Core represents an important step toward better schools. It might even have examples of local chambers of commerce or civic leagues stepping up to hold local and state officials accountable for not only supporting the standards but supporting implementation efforts as well (training, curriculum , evaluation and so forth).* That column would be worth emailing all over the place as evidence of progress. This one merely underscored the problem, which isn’t a new problem at all.
*Just an aside, when you look at other political issues and see the robust grassroots and grasstops political work surrounding them and then look at the infrastructure supporting the Common Core it’s like comparing a short season single A baseball team to the major league team. That’s not lost on politicians as they try to figure out where to move on this issue.