This Tuesday, Glenn Beck is live-streaming a national anti-Common Core event called “We Will Not Conform.” Opposing the Common Core State Standards has been Beck’s bread and butter of late. In May, he released the book Conform: Exposing the Truth about Common Core and Public Education, which currently holds top spots in three categories at Amazon. Much of Beck’s anti-CCSS steam comes from the anti-big government engine, a vehicle I tend to hitch a ride on myself. But in the case of CCSS, I’m getting off that train.
It’s important to remember that education has taken many very different forms throughout human history, from apprenticeships to private home tutoring to parochial and charity schools to, more recently, government-supported public education. Christians in particular need to be informed by the long and broad view of history, one that transcends the narrowness of our times. Even so, the emphasis of the Common Core standards on process analysis and critical thinking supports the timeless admonition of Scripture to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
In preparing today’s students for life after secondary school, local oversight is not necessarily better. We no longer live in a world in which students can expect to remain in their local communities upon graduating from high school. Many won’t even remain in their home state or their home country for the duration of their adult lives. In order to flourish in a global community, students are no longer served best by provincial approaches. In fact, college admissions and scholarship decisions rely increasingly on national test scores because high school GPAs and class standings are too relative to be reliable. Moreover, there hasn’t been much “local” about education since state governments started establishing standards of learning and testing. And state oversight isn’t much better. Under No Child Left Behind, states simply “adjusted” their tests as needed to achieve the results necessary to bring in the promised federal funds.
Critical thinking supports the timeless admonition of Scripture to 'take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.'
In contrast, a common set of learning standards (note: standards are not curriculum, nor are they tests) allows local districts and states to adopt whatever curriculum and tests they want. Having common standards means the target is the same; the means of hitting that target, of course, are various. Beck’s charge in his book that CCSS is just a step toward a nationalized curriculum (the “conformity” of the book’s title) is a mere phantom. Consider the fact that the SAT and ACT tests required by most colleges for admission have never evolved into a national curriculum. No one fears they will and no one is crusading against them. In fact, many college officials find these nationally normed tests to be among the most reliable predictors of college classroom success. Yet, the emphasis of the standards on critical thinking and process analysis is designed to prepare students not only for college, but for the real world of work where students will face competitors from across the world to obtain jobs and advancements.
Finally, Beck offers no real basis for his biggest concern - that CCSS dumbs down the curriculum. Indeed, he complains that CCSS emphasizes critical thinking, then goes on to charge that the goal of the standards is “creating workers, not thinkers.” Even his claim that the process by which 45 states approved the standards was “through the back door” is false. The process, in fact, involved countless experts, educators, researchers and state boards of education working through established governmental processes. People’s failure to pay attention does not a stealth effort make.
Many of the criticisms of CCSS can be checked by going to the source and digging a little deeper than the latest Internet meme. In fact, that’s exactly the approach CCSS encourages: “Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career and life.” In other words, the standards insist upon examining the evidence and going back to original sources - exactly the sort of thing a thinking Christian would do.