Why Common Core is not conservative

Common Core is a way to standardize math and science education. It was devised by states not wanting to comply with No Child Left Behind. With the blessing of the federal government and its funding, those states, including Utah, formed a consortium to create standardized math and science goals. Because No Child Left Behind was championed by former President George Bush, and because states comprised the consortium to create these standardized measures, some people argue that Common Core is the product of conservative thinking. I respond: not true.

Common Core may have merits as a standardized way of trying to educate children in math and science. But none of its component parts are conservative in any way, shape or form.

In principle, American conservatism champions a free society through a delicate balance of civilizing institutions, such as family and religion. Achieving limited government only occurs when our civilizing institutions are strong. Its process is prudence in the hands of responsible citizens who adhere to subsidiarity – prioritizing local self-government before state and federal governments.

In relation to personal educational progress, American conservatism holds parents responsible for the “education and upbringing of their children.” In terms of public education, American conservatism means we educate rising generations to be intelligent and engaged citizens. Common Core represents an opposing view.

Common Core replaces parents as standard-bearers in the education of their children and it replaces the educational goal of responsible citizenship with a governmental goal of a competent workforce. Proof is in the pudding – champions of Common Core invoke the needs of a competitive society, not responsible citizens as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson.

Students trained for the workforce aren’t always students trained to be responsible citizens.

Paid pitchmen trying to sell Common Core as a conservative program shamelessly twist notions of conservatism. They say Common Core is fiscally responsible because of sunk costs. They claim Common Core magically holds schools accountable. Remarkably, they say Common Core is school choice. They say it will somehow make America competitive. They imply that it’s responsible for innovations like online education. And they embarrassingly suggest that standardization is traditional education.

Look folks, Common Core is nothing but one more attempt to circumvent the growing federal control of public education while keeping hold of federal education dollars. If the federal dollars weren’t there, there would be no Common Core in Utah. It’s that simple.

The conservative ideal of public education has a few components. First, public education exists to help parents create responsible citizens. Second, in the Jeffersonian model, responsible citizenship is a bulwark against governmental tyranny. In other words, successful public education will not foster government dependency. Third, while it has no problem with standards, it opposes standardization. Standardization also invalidates, disrespects and dishonors the profession of teaching. And, fourth, to express the true interests of parents, public education must protect its roots of local governance.

Common Core laughs in the face of those conservative ideals for public education. Any time an elected official invokes the need for a competitive workforce as the primary goal of public education, you can be sure that more government and higher taxes will follow. Common Core is not part of a conservative vision for public education.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

The above post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

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