Uneducated battle

Although the Kansas Senate was willing to pull the plug on years of hard work educators have spent developing and already implementing new math and language arts standards, the House of Representatives was not.

Late Saturday, the House narrowly rejected a plan to kill the Common Core standards adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education in 2010.

Teachers and administrators throughout the state must have shared a collective sigh of relief upon hearing the news. After all, efforts are underway in all 285 of the state's public school districts to hire teachers, purchase textbooks, adjust local curriculum and conduct professional development that align with the new standards.

One would like to assume all an elected official would have to do would be to ask somebody involved with the process to know Common Core is a solid replacement for the No Child Left Behind debacle. It allows local autonomy but eliminates guesswork about when students should be introduced to subject matter, which currently varies wildly from state to state and results in poor relative standing compared to other countries' education efforts. Common Core will have schools stop teaching to inconsistent tests and reintroduce creativity into the classroom instead.

Students should be the greatest beneficiaries of these standards, as they will become better prepared whether going on to college or straight into the work force. So much effort was put into developing Common Core that almost the entire country is adopting it.

Yet Kansas wasn't the only state attempting to throw out Common Core. Eight others have been going through the same process.

Could there truly be this many lawmakers around the country so bothered by the fact President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed the standards? Not help write or develop them, mind you, simply endorse them.

We finally discovered what we've been overlooking. There are two factors in play that have nothing to do with the efficacy of Common Core.

The first was articulated clearly on the Heritage Foundation's website: "American education is at a crossroads: One path leads toward further centralization and greater federal intervention. The other path leads toward robust education choice, including school choice and choice in curricula."

The centralization and federal intervention merely are fabrications, as local school boards and states are giving up nothing. Quite the opposite, in fact. They are reassuming the control lost with NCLB.

It's the second sentence that is key. Adoption of Common Core is a threat to those pushing for school vouchers.

The second factor was outlined in a Washington Post article just last week regarding tea party groups: "The movement has a renewed sense of purpose and energy following revelations that many of its groups were improperly targeted by the Internal Revenue Service, and members consider dismantling what some deride as "Obamacore" their newest cause. Unlike the health-care fight, though, organizers say the Common Core battle is winnable and could be a potential watershed moment."

So public schools already in the transition process are facing an organized lobbying effort from tea party groups, libertarian groups, Americans for Prosperity, the Liberty Foundation, the Cato Institute, Fox News and others. And we're guessing lawmakers throughout the country are hearing from constituents, who make up for not being informed by simply being loud.

They come armed with "facts" such as this from Freedom Works: "Quietly and almost without notice, an initiative which significantly erodes local and state control of school curriculum has passed in 46 states. The Common Core Standards Initiative sets Math and English curriculum in every participating state at the same level. In adopting this "common core" states are relinquishing their right to compose their own education requirements."

None of it is true. Yet those talking points are reiterated by almost every group fighting the standards. The approach is effective. Such "research" has been enough to convince 24 Kansas state senators and more than 50 House members to vote against Common Core.

And even though Kansas is but one year away from full implementation, we would bet the fight will resume in the next legislative session. The chair of the House Education Committee more or less promised as much.

"I assure you that parents are not going away and this is an issue at the ballot box," said Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City.

Misled parents are one thing. There is no excuse for uninformed legislators. We hope our elected leaders will take the time to read the standards and talk to those in education.

Then they need to let the State Board of Education do its job. Attempts to dismantle necessary and appropriate education standards because the tea party has found a new cause or because religious groups want a piece of the taxpayer pie to fund their schools should be thwarted -- not encouraged.

Kansas lawmakers need to go back to school.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net