Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Common Core: Education Radically Transformed


Look at today’s newspapers and you will see that Americans are poised to fundamentally reform two huge sectors of our lives. The headlines on page one will tell you about the healthcare sector. Our government is even “closed” due to the fight over implementing “Obamacare.” That’s one. Look at one of the inside pages and you will likely read about the other wholesale reform, the one of K-12 education. This reform is more important than the healthcare changeover, even though it is less prominently reported.
I am speaking of the “Common Core.” It is a set of K-12 academic standards in math and “English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects,” complete with suggested texts. Conceived by private foundations and political associations and vigorously promoted by the Obama Administration, Common Core has been adopted by 45 states and over 100 Catholic school systems since 2010. Through grant competitions and offers to “waive” federal rules, the Administration tied federally-developed testing, teacher evaluations and ultimately achievement standards to the Common Core. Together, this will drive the curriculum and shape the teaching in our nation’s schools for, well, a long time to come.

Why do I say that this reform is more important than Obamacare? For two reasons. One is that education has more to do with who we are and what we aspire to become than does the scope, affordability and accessibility of healthcare—although those are all very important matters.
The other reason is that the healthcare debate is about means, not ends or philosophy. Almost every American agrees that affordable healthcare should be available to everyone. But there is a heated disagreement about how that goal should be achieved. Many people agree with the President and those who supported Obamacare that the government must take an extraordinarily large hand in healthcare, if this aim is to be realized. Many other people who are dedicated to universal healthcare maintain that government is likely to be neither effective nor efficient in this arena, and that the market must play the predominant role in any realistic plan to achieve universal healthcare.

It is true that people in this debate often disagree too about the proper role of freedom of choice (for patients to choose providers, for example) in any program for universal care. Even so, this argument is secondary, and subordinate: People who agree that the desired end is affordable care for everyone disagree here about how, and how much, freedom of choice fits into the picture. But that picture (of healthcare for all) is still common ground.

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