How Parents Are Winning the Common Core Debate


George Will gave a good accounting of many of the objections to the Common Core Standards Initiative in his Washington Post column on Wednesday, pointing out that the standards spring from a top-down, big government approach to education that threatens to live on in perpetuity because the Common Core is tied to generous federal bribes -- and threats that the bribes will go away if states don't fall in line with Common Core.

But ontological and ideological arguments aside, Will does a fine job of explaining the organic rise of opposition to Common Core -- an emerging pattern we've seen in recent years as the conservative movement has matured and learned to bypass traditional methods of influence. Will gives examples of "three healthy aspects of today’s politics" which, if applied correctly and used consistently, can lead to the defeat of the Common Core standards. Below are three strategies Will says are making a difference:


1. "New communication skills and technologies enable energized minorities to force new topics onto the political agenda."

It used to be that activists had to rely on phone chains and mailing lists -- snail mail -- to get word out about their causes. It took a dreadfully long time to organize a resistance of any consequence, and there was often little hope of rousing entrenched politicians who answered mainly to lobbyists and big donors.

But now, with social media, camera-equipped cell phones, talk radio and the 24-hour news cycle, virtually everyone can be an instant political activist. As a result, powerful news organizations and politicians no longer have complete control over the "narratives." Activists now have effective and efficient (and often free) tools at their disposal to help level the playing field.

Soccer moms with cell phones can assemble a hundred parents at the statehouse with a handful of tweets or shut down the phone systems for a week with a single Facebook post that instantly reaches thousands of activists. Legislators can only ignore such efforts for so long because, as the great philosopher of our age Kelly Clarkson said, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Ignoring highly dedicated activists merely forces them to redouble their efforts and find new pathways to success.

OverflowCrowd_HB237 Overflow crowd at Ohio House hearing on Common Core repeal.

2. "This uprising of local communities against state capitals, the nation’s capital and various muscular organizations (e.g., the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce, teachers unions, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) demonstrates that although the public agenda is malleable, a sturdy portion of the public is not."

Common Core was pushed through state legislatures quickly, largely as a result of lots of money -- federal money, union money, and money from testing companies and massive foundations that in the past were able to drown out the voices of citizens. As a result, most state legislatures want Common Core to go away. Certainly, they want the standards -- and the money -- to stay, but they don't want the debate to continue.

As parents see the new standards coming home in their children's backpacks, they're telling their legislators that this debate is not over. No matter how many times their legislators and the education "experts" say "trust us, we know what we're doing," parents are not convinced -- they do not want Common Core in their schools and their voices are growing louder. As we recently saw in Ohio when parents stopped (in less than a week) a proposed law to give social workers veto power over homeschooling and when a community rose up against thuggish teachers unions during a strike last year, grassroots activism is beginning to break through the entrenched political intransigence. 

3. "Political dishonesty has swift, radiating and condign consequences. Opposition to the Common Core is surging because Washington, hoping to mollify opponents, is saying, in effect: 'If you like your local control of education, you can keep it. Period.' To which a burgeoning movement is responding: 'No. Period.'"

There is a Wizard of Oz quality to all of this. It is no longer 1939 or even the 1980s when parents trusted that the professional educators -- and the educrats -- knew what was best for their children. What happens when the Great and Terrible Oz -- or a Common Core proponent -- shouts, "Do you presume to criticize the Great Oz, you ungrateful creatures?" Parents, as Dorothy did, pull back the curtain and expose the man spinning the wheels and pulling the levers who tells them to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The Great Oz has spoken. I am the great and powerful Wizard of...Oz."

Recall that Dorothy, in her innocent wisdom, tells the exposed Wizard, "You are a very bad man!..If you were really great and powerful you would keep your promises!"

Parents are tired of big-government solutions to the problems in education. The promises of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have resulted in a race to the bottom. The federal government and the bureaucrats are notorious for their grand visions, but like the Wizard of Oz, they rarely keep their promises. As Will said so succinctly, parents are saying: "No. Period."

Will is correct that the Common Core debate will soon become an issue of significant national debate. But much like with the climate change debate, many would like to relegate Common Core to the dustbin of "settled law" or "settled science" so they can move along to the next grand scheme to reform our children. However, despite the best efforts of the debate deniers, many parents have only just begun to speak and they won't go away until they have their say -- and until they get some answers from the Wizard.