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SPOTLIGHT
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President Reagan and Common Core

Published on -11/5/2013, 10:02 AM

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By DENNIS LAUVER

President Ronald Reagan was a much better communicator than President Barack Obama. Reagan correctly believed that reducing the role of the federal government was best. President Obama's incorrect default position is to increase the role of the federal government.

Even when Reagan's policies actually increased federal spending, he communicated as it as reducing the federal government's role. I remember watching the Jan. 25, 1983, State of Union speech. Reagan proposed a tax increase, up to three and a half billion dollars, yet communicated it as a way to reduce the scope of the federal government. Obama's approach is the opposite: he advocates increased federal spending and positions a larger central government role.

In the same speech, Reagan proposed an "education initiative to encourage a substantial upgrading of math and science instruction." He wanted to send federal money to states and local school districts that adopted curriculum that met his administration's approval.

President Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative basically follows the same approach as Reagan, with a key difference. Federal dollars are offered to states if they upgrade the quality of education and if they quantify the results. Race to the Top, unlike Reagan's proposal, does not get into the content of classroom curriculum.

Starting this school year, Salina area students have access to excellent Career-Tech Education facilities and improved career pathways. We want Salina schools to make continued gains in student achievement, improve graduation rates and ensure student preparation for success in college and careers. This is critical to economic development and growth. The Common Core standards are one of the methods a state can use to quantify that it is preparing students for the future workplace by developing critical thinking and problem solving skills.

A dispassionate review of the Common Core education standards leads one to the same conclusion reached by National Review, the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.

National Review noted: "For decades, students in different states have been taught different material at different rates and held to radically different standards. Several years ago, a small group of governors joined together in an effort to align their states' standards and assessments. This group expanded through the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. In 2007 (before Obama took office), curriculum experts began to devise the new Common Core standards.

"Common Core offers American students the opportunity for a far more rigorous, content-rich, cohesive K-12 education than most of them have had. Conservatives used to be in favor of holding students to high standards and an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic."

The Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. observed: "The Common Core state standards are designed to allow each state to make its own decisions regarding the curriculum, technology and lesson plans to be used in local schools."

In other words, the standards stipulate what we want all students to know and be able to do, but each state retains the explicit authority to determine how it teaches its students. The standards are a tool to help educators, not a straitjacket for them.

A major benefit of the Common Core state standards is that they encourage students to analyze and apply critical reasoning skills to the texts they are reading and the math problems they are solving. These are the capabilities that students need as they prepare for high-skill jobs.

We need to raise expectations at every grade level so that, for instance, students who do well in math in lower grades are spurred to take algebra and more advanced math. But we need high standards to drive efforts to improve educational outcomes in every subject.

This policy discussion has important ramifications for Salina and for Kansas. Our employers continually need talent that is skilled in decision-making and critical thinking. For Salina to grow, employers must be assured they will find the quality and quantity of talent they need. Much of the curriculum in the Kansas Career Readiness Standards will help the next generation of Kansas workers be better prepared for the future.

President Reagan wanted the federal government to be more involved in local school curriculum than the current administration. The problem is President Obama's approach to support this upgrade of American school curriculum. He and his administration need to take the "less government is better" approach when they talk. Everyone evaluating Common Core needs to focus on the content of the standards rather than the messenger.

Dennis Lauver is president and CEO of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce.

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