Jacques: Should Mich. ditch Common Core?

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

If you don’t support the national Common Core education standards, chances are you’ve been painted as a tea partier who sports a tinfoil hat.

But it’s more complicated than that.

As dissatisfaction in the country grows with the math and reading standards — and the tests that go along with them — expect the debate to stick around.

There’s a good chance lawmakers in Michigan may decide to move away from the Common Core. It’s not that crazy of an idea.

Forty-six states originally signed on to the standards, but six years later, many legislatures are backtracking. Nearly half the states have left or are considering leaving the Common Core.

The standards were developed by a national consortium of states in 2010, and the Michigan State Board of Education adopted them shortly thereafter.

Republican lawmakers in this state have always been uneasy with the standards. And as the federal government got its grip on the Common Core and the tests aligned to it, legislators got even more concerned. North Dakota just ditched the standards this week, bringing the number of states to have initially joined the core and then left to seven. Four states — Texas, Nebraska, Virginia and Alaska — never signed on.

Legislation to repeal the Common Core in Michigan passed out of the Senate Education Committee last week. Similar bills are in the House. Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, is leading the charge against the Core, and he is supported by Sen. Phil Pavlov, who chairs the Education Committee.

Colbeck says he wants to make Michigan a top 10 state for education, as do many other politicians in the state, including Gov. Rick Snyder and state Superintendent Brian Whiston. And Colbeck thinks one of the best ways to make the state a leader is to repeal the Common Core, which he describes as a “race to the middle, not a race to the top.”

It’s not like he’s advocating doing away with strong state standards. Far from it. He wants Michigan to adopt the standards Massachusetts had before it turned to the national benchmarks.

Given that Massachusetts (prior to 2010) had distinguished itself as the top state for student performance, it’s often upheld as the gold standard. After several years of following the Common Core, Massachusetts is now moving away from test aligned with the Core and it likely will design new standards, too.

Sandra Stotsky, professor of education emerita at the University of Arkansas, developed Massachusetts’ strong English language arts standards while senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999-2003. As a member of the Common Core standards validation committee, Stotsky refused to sign off on the proposed English standards.

Stotsky, who testified in favor of Colbeck’s bill, has written: “Common Core’s standards not only present a serious threat to state and local education authority, but also put academic quality at risk.”

Similarly, Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, has said the bill would set consistent standards and give some control back to local communities.

Michigan schools do need consistency. They also need strong standards that will prepare students for a competitive workforce.

That doesn’t mean Common Core is the answer.

And it seems strange that groups like Education Trust-Midwest and Business Leaders for Michigan, who have long upheld Massachusetts and Tennessee as examples, would blast state lawmakers for trying to weaken standards since both those states also are distancing themselves from Common Core.

States have more flexibility now to determine their own testing and standards, thanks to Congress finally doing away with No Child Left Behind late last year. The new law releases states from the waivers that had tied many of them to Common Core.

Developing new standards and a new test would cost Michigan taxpayers. But it could be what’s best for the state’s students.

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques