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Common Core: Questions abound

The state Board of Education adopted the Common Core Standards for New Hampshire two years ago. Last week, Manchester school board members postponed a committee meeting at which Common Core would be discussed because critical information about the standards had not been made available in time. At the full school board meeting the week before, no one knew whether the district would lose $77 million in state and federal aid if it rejected the standards. This is how grassroots opposition to government initiatives sprouts.

More and more parents are skeptical because there is no satisfying answer to even the most basic questions about Common Core. For example: What is Common Core? It is a set of standards in English "language arts" and math. But what does that mean? The standards are not a list of items students are expected to know, but brief, vague descriptions of broad skills students are expected to have at each grade level.

How teachers impart those skills is largely left to them - except that the standards come with suggested methods, some of which seem highly questionable. And even among education experts there is great disagreement over whether these standards are as rigorous or as predictive of success as supporters claim.

Many people who hated No Child Left Behind now champion Common Core. But they are peas in a pod. Both amount to national experiments being conducted in real time on our children without any firm sense of what the results will be.

This is exactly the wrong way to do education reform in the American republic. One of the primary benefits of a federated republic is that states can funcion, in the famous phrase, as "laboratories of democracy." Common Core weakens that advantage when it comes to education. Manchester officials are right to question the wisdom of blindly adopting these untested standards. If only state officials had done so earlier.

Eric Church
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