It’s the time of year when students are heading back to school, and while young people around Maine were shopping for new backpacks and sneakers, their teachers were getting ready to implement new benchmarks in math and English.
Maine adopted the Common Core about two years ago to little controversy. Since then, though, an array of critics have assailed the standards, and with a drive under way to put an initiative aimed at repealing the Common Core on the 2014 ballot, the debate will only grow in intensity.
The controversy could be defused by leaders who are willing to hear people out and respectfully but firmly debunk any misapprehensions. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening in Maine. Gov. LePage has presented a mixed message on the Common Core standards’ overall value. If the implementation of the standards proceeds smoothly, it will be despite his efforts, not because of them.
The Common Core spells out exactly what students in each grade should know, whether it’s the coordinate system in fifth-grade math or the Gettysburg Address in freshman English. In Maine, the rollout of the standards is being overseen by the school districts. Local education officials, not state ones, will be drawing up reading lists and lesson plans tailored to the Common Core.
The federal government didn’t create the Common Core, and it doesn’t require that states adopt it. Nonetheless, critics — including the organizers of the Maine repeal effort — have blasted the Common Core as a federal takeover of local education.
Gov. LePage issued an executive order Wednesday reaffirming that the federal government has no role in setting Maine learning standards. He was obviously trying to appease tea party opponents of the Common Core. However, the executive order hasn’t swayed them — a leader of the ballot initiative says the drive will continue.
More damaging is the message the governor sent last week, when he gave an interview to Bloomberg News disavowing the standards.
In an article published online Thursday, LePage is quoted as saying, “I don’t believe in Common Core. I believe in raising the standards in education.” Mainers are left to wonder whether the governor — who sets the state’s policy agenda — really supports the new benchmarks, or whether he’ll abandon them at the first sign of dissent on the part of his base.
Common Core standards are a key part of school reform. The benchmarks are meant to ensure that students graduate from high school prepared for a job or for higher education — a significant matter in Maine, where young people’s workplace and college readiness has long been an issue.
Another advantage is that the Common Core is uniform, making it possible to directly compare how kids in one state stack up against students in other states.
One of government’s core responsibilities is providing public school students with an education that will enable them to succeed. We need responsible leaders who will clarify what the new learning standards are and how they’ll move Maine toward this goal, not add to the abundant misinformation that’s already out there.