Setting the Record Straight on Common Core

The following article was written by Bill Habermehl, Superintendent Emeritus, OC Department of Education, and Tom Umberg, Fmr. California State Assemblymember representing Orange County. 
 Common Core has divided Orange County. More than in almost any other region in California, the updated education standards have caused heated public debate and fiery speeches on both sides, all playing out in our local press and politics. With the recent release of the Common Core-aligned test scores, the controversy will heat up again. Unfortunately, the divisive nature of the debate has obscured some crucial facts. The reality is that Common Core isn’t about pundits, or left versus right, or states versus the federal government. Common Core is about learning the basic skills in mathematics language arts that all students nationally, and in Orange County, should know.
If you just read the headlines, you might not realize that most of the controversy surrounding Common Core is coming from political insiders fighting with each other, not average citizens voicing concerns. That’s how updating our education standards got misconstrued as federal government intrusion and so-called “brainwashing.”
Of course the federal government shouldn’t decide what’s taught in schools – those decisions should remain in local hands, and they have. Local boards of education can pick and choose from Common Core recommendations and decide what’s best for their students.Common Core isn’t a curriculum. It’s a set of education standards developed by a coalition of educators, state governors, and community development and business groups, based on research and best practices from schools in California and the US.
Common Core teaches real-world skills like critical thinking and problem solving, skills kids need for college and career. For decades, as American students fell farther behind international competitors, education experts warned that we needed to raise the bar to put US students back on an equal footing.
The most efficient way to do that is by setting national standards that are locally controlled, ensuring any student graduating from an American high school reads and writes fluently, is grounded in math and science and is able to think critically.
Maintaining high educational standards is especially important for Orange County. We’re in the vanguard of the tech revolution, and need a well-educated workforce for local businesses to thrive.
One reason technology companies look abroad for qualified workers is that America’s education system has lagged behind that of many other countries. Common Core helps guarantee that local schools produce the skilled workers Orange County’s tech sector jobs demand.
Keeping our regional economy strong and giving students the education they deserve – that’s what Common Core is about. Maybe that’s why, when the Common Core-aligned assessments were given this spring, less than one percent of Orange County parents opted their kids out of testing.
There was talk about a movement to opt out in droves, but in the end most parents realized assessing student progress is an important part of education. Parents looked at their options with an eye to what was best for their kids, and most decided to stay the course with California schools.
That’s because a majority of Californians support Common Core and the fundamental skills it teaches.  A poll conducted this spring found two-thirds of California voters were in favor of the standards, and support for the individual components, like writing and critical thinking, topped 90 percent.
If that surprises you, consider how much how much air time is given to the noisy “controversy,” as opposed to quieter stories of determined students stepping up to new challenges and hard-working teachers getting the job done.
When the political sideshow is over, we’ll be left with the serious work of educating the millions of children who will someday be California’s thinkers, innovators and leaders. It’s time to put aside our differences and work together to ensure our state’s prosperity. Common Core is good for students, good for Orange County and good for California.
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