November 5, 2015

Common Core as Political Football Ignores Its Benefits to Students

By Lydia Burns

Though it has everything to do with what students are learning, "Common Core" is a phrase you're more likely to hear about on the presidential campaign trail than in a Kentucky classroom.


Sound bites like "frankenstandard," "rotten to the core" and even an outright "disaster" pepper the national conversation, fueled by controversy-hungry news media.


But it can be difficult to wrap one's head around why academic standards have become such a political football in the 2016 presidential race in the first place when, five years into their adoption here in Kentucky, they have enjoyed strong bipartisan support and produced some solid success stories in our classrooms, where it ought to matter most.


At least some of the political rhetoric against the standards is based on the faulty premise that they are a federal mandate and fly in the face of states' rights. This is despite the fact the core academic standards evolved out of grass-roots state initiatives.


More specifically, though their implementation was encouraged by a $4.4 billion grant from the Obama administration, Common Core standards were developed by Republican and Democratic governors together with state education officials.


And even more specifically than that, it was Kentucky's education leadership that spearheaded the national effort.


But even beyond that, as a student myself, I take offense that politicians are having conversations about education in which we are hardly even a factor. Education policy should revolve around students, not the whims of an election cycle — especially since so many of us are too young to vote and these decisions so directly affect us.


The political noise is drowning out the voices of people who are directly affected by the Core: students and our dedicated teachers. Why are we not serving as the more credible feedback loop? Why are more people not asking us what we see at the classroom level?


No one says the Core is perfect, and many of us in the classroom paying attention can tell that their implementation might have been better planned.


We can see firsthand, for example, that some of our teachers did not anticipate, or simply could not accommodate, the amount of time and effort it would take for them to plan their new lessons. And we directly feel the fallout of tests that seem not exactly aligned with what we are learning.


But even still, when informed and aware of the impact, many Kentucky students and teachers can agree that Kentucky's academic standards are good for the type of deeper learning we will need to succeed after high school. Under the newer academic standards, lower level and average students are learning to think like mathematicians, scientists, English professors, engineers and doctors. We are also being encouraged to make clearer connections between what we learn in school and how we can apply that knowledge.


But in the end, it doesn't take any exposure to the Common Core to tell you what you really need to know about this issue. More rigorous standards that prepare students for a global economy that will likely involve more innovation and uncertainty than ever before are more than a good thing; they are a necessity.


I just hope our future president can put politics aside long enough to hear the voices from the classroom—particularly those in Kentucky—that so strongly affirm that.

The Kentucky Student Voice Team is a statewide organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners.


It was founded in 2012 at the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an independent, nonpartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education in Kentucky—early childhood through postsecondary. Since 2021, KSVT has been an independent organization.

This op-ed originally ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Lydia Burns

Lydia Burns

Lydia is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT and former member. She was previously the Chair of the Academic Standards Committee. Lydia graduated from West Jessamine High School in 2016 and the University of Louisville in 2020.