Michael Vaughn

Keeping Politics AND Conformity Out of the Classroom in Jefferson County

In opposing the Common Core State Standards, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution that “recognizes the CCSS for what it is—an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived ‘normal.’” The Tea Party’s new ad against the Common Core chimes in: “At its core, what is Common Core? By definition, it’s conformity.” So, their rhetoric suggests that they are for… Keeping politics out of the classroom. Letting teachers teach. Letting kids experience the joy of learning through exploring different ideas and discovering who they are and what they believe in. Amen. But reality doesn’t support the claim that the Common Core stands in the way of these ideals.

Standards, Not Curriculum

The Common Core is about standards, not curriculum. It’s saying: This is what kids should be able to do when they walk out of the classroom. It does not dictate what kids should be taught in the classroom. As recently as a year ago, 70% of teachers supported Common Core and, while the brand has suffered from relentless negative and misleading attacks from both the left and the right, support for high standards remains strong among both teachers and parents. In addition, many have forcefully said that these are the right learning standards for our kids and that teachers will still have complete freedom to teach the way they want to teach.

Politics Meet Curriculum in Jefferson County

If you want to find a potentially dangerous political “overreach” into the classroom to “control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived ‘normal,’” look to Colorado’s Jefferson County, where a member of the conservative-controlled Board of Education is proposing an end-run curriculum review to whitewash the AP U.S. history course taken by students in the district’s high schools. Jefferson County Board Member Julie Williams believes the AP history course, as designed by a team of history teachers, doesn’t promote her version of history quite patriotically enough. Her proposal says that the course materials “should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.” Sounds a lot like conformity to me—and apparently to some Jefferson County teachers, students, and parents as well. But fair enough. Community members, and certainly Board of Education members, have every right to raise questions and concerns about the curriculum being taught in their schools. The problem is, the Jefferson Board already has an established process for listening to and resolving those questions, as Chalkbeat Colorado reported:
Critics of the proposal note that JeffCo Public Schools already has two different curriculum committees that might be able to answer those questions. One is a regular committee made up of administrators who review and make recommendations on new curriculum before it’s purchased. The second is an ad-hoc committee pulled together when a parent challenges a specific text.
And there’s a good reason that the Jefferson Board would have a separate non-Board-controlled committee set up to make curriculum calls— to keep politics out of the classroom. Keeping publicly elected people somewhat removed from controlling curriculum helps insulate those decisions from political influence. So why balk at having the AP history concerns go through the established review process? Could it be because the panel of independent educators and residents who would handle the review might not conform to the conformity of politicized history lessons?
Michael Vaughn
Michael Vaughn was the founding Communications Director of Education Post. Prior to that, Mike worked for 18 years in the communications offices of two urban school districts. He served in a variety of communications roles for the Chicago Public Schools starting in 1996, shortly after Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of CPS, and eventually served as the district's Communications Director until ...

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