By ELIZABETH HUSTAD
Special to the Star Tribune
“Nefarious.” “Government indoctrination camps.” Those words have been applied to the Common Core national education standards by some who oppose them, according to a report released Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The civil rights organization's report centered on what it called extremist opposition to the standards, which have roused a new debate about federal involvement in public education at the same time these standards are slowly taking root in schools nationwide.
The Common Core outlines national standards for math and English or language arts in an attempt to bring some uniformity to education levels of students entering college. They are a response to poor marks the United States gets, compared to many other nations, in the area of preparing students of higher education.
Only 26 percent of the nation’s high school seniors met ACT benchmarks for college readiness in the subjects of English, reading, math and science in 2013, according to a report from the testing body. Minnesota fared better – though still far below par – with 39 percent of students “college ready.”
The SPLC report detailed the kind of opposition the Core has faced from tea party activists and others who see the initiative as a government attempt to dictate the schooling of U.S. students. The report focused on comparisons to re-education camps and warnings that the initiative is one step removed from a federally -mandated curriculum.
Some in the opposition have branded the initiative with the name “Obamacore” and likened it to “government-run indoctrination camps,” said Heidi Beirich, intelligence project director at the SPLC.
The Common Core is not, however, a curriculum but rather a set of standards to ensure students are meeting certain benchmarks and are more prepared for college, Beirich said.
The real concern is about government involvement, said Maureen Costello, teaching tolerance director at the SPLC. The standards have minimal content requirements that cover things already often studied such as Shakespeare and historical documents in American History. Of the suggested reading list, Costello said “It’s full of a bunch of dead white guys.”
The SPLC report did not reveal information about non-rightist attitudes toward the program. This has been a constant point of contention among the Core’s opponents. Developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of State School Officers in 2009, the Common Core had very little input from the public before 44 states agreed to adhere to the new standards.
Though states are not required to adopt the Common Core, they do have incentive to do so. States that have adopted “common standards” were given preference for receiving federal Race to the Top Phase I grants as well as $350 million in federal money to ease costs of assessing the Common Core, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Minnesota adopted in 2010 the standards for English and language arts but not for math. State statute requires revision of subject-specific standards on a cyclical basis; state math standards are up for review during the 2015-2016 academic year.
The report is at www.splcenter.org.
Elizabeth Hustad is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.