July 29, 2013

My Conversation with the Leader of the Common Core


Michael Farris, HSLDA Founder and Chairman and homeschooling father of 10
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David Coleman, president of the College Board, is the acknowledged principal leader of the effort to create and implement the Common Core. And he wanted to talk with me about Home School Legal Defense Association’s position. I was very willing.

We spent about an hour together on the phone. The conversation was very cordial. Both of us showed that we truly listened to and heard the other person’s position. And both of us stood strongly on our principles and core positions. I was really glad that we talked.

His initial presentation walked me through several features of the Common Core. From a pedagogical perspective, there are clearly some good ideas contained in it. When it came time for me to respond, I began with a story. I once testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee when Senator Joseph Biden was chairing a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee. Before I began, Biden asked me, “I have a question for you. Is it your idea to force everyone to homeschool?”

I told Senator Biden that such an idea would be anathema to HSLDA and to me. We simply want to protect the right to choose homeschooling for those who wish to pursue it.

I told Mr. Coleman that the point of the story was this: Just because you have a good idea (homeschooling in my case, Common Core in his case), it doesn’t mean that it is appropriate to force everyone in the country to follow your idea. And that is my central problem with the Common Core and all forms of centralized educational planning.

To his credit, Mr. Coleman noted that he was not acting in a vacuum. There are centralized mandates for education in play virtually everywhere. And many of them have very marginal educational utility. I agreed with his assessment of many current centralized standards.

Visit HSLDA's new Common Core website: www.hslda.org/commoncore

However, my response was that the solution is not a national set of standards, but allowing each state to develop its own standards. Competing standards from all 50 states would be likely to create more innovations—although my clear preference is to do away with all forms of centralized government standards. (I believe that public schools should form their own local standards.)

When he asked me why I thought that the Common Core was worse than other standards, I indicated that one of my chief concerns was the creation of the database that would track students throughout their educational career.

His answer surprised me. He didn’t like the database all that well. It was not originally part of the Common Core, but other people have seized the opportunity to make a centralized data collection effort through the implementation of the Common Core.

We talked about many other details, but these were some of the most important.

I walked away wishing that more political conversations could be like this one. Polite. Professional. Helpful.

He acknowledged some good ideas that I shared, and I did the same.

I strongly oppose the Common Core for reasons I shared with him in detail. But I want to do my best to avoid demonizing those who promote it. He is motivated by what he truly thinks is best for education and for kids. I think his plans are unwise, especially when coupled with government coercion. But I will not question either his motives or his character.

We came away believing that each of us is acting in good faith. I think we make better policy decisions when we avoid the invective and simply look to the substance. That much, David Coleman and I have in common.