Ignore Christie's political bluster on Common Core

Editorial by the Star-Leder Editorial Board

06/03/15

 Gov. Chris Christie's flip-flop on the Common Core education standards has created mass confusion in the educational trenches in New Jersey.

No wonder. Principals and teachers have been working for five years to build curriculum and training programs based on these standards, and now the governor says they are "not working."

It's a bizarre state of affairs. He didn't identify any concrete problem with the standards, so educators can only guess. And he didn't actually order anyone to stop teaching by those standards, or to halt the curriculum and training programs based on them.

It gets more bizarre still. He said the students would continue to take the PARCC tests, which are designed to assess their mastery of these standards. What sense does that make if the standards are flawed?

Christie made this speech a month before his own advisory committee was scheduled to offer its recommendations on Common Core and standardized testing. The committee is packed with respected educators, and chaired by Christie's own education commissioner, Dave Hespe. To jump ahead now is a slap in their faces.

Our suggestion is that the members of this advisory group quit in protest. The governor obviously has no respect for their views. Why should they waste their time?

More important, principals and teachers who have been working hard to implement these standards should ignore the governor and stay the course. This puff of political wind will blow over. The imperative now is to protect our children from the turbulence.

In the end, it's likely that the standards won't change much anyway. Christie intends to appoint another group to study how the Common Core standards can be improved. In Louisiana and Arizona, where Republican governors pulled similar stunts, the state standards wound up being nearly identical to Common Core.

That's no surprise, either. These standards have been embraced by 40 states, and are supported by a broad coalition. In New Jersey, the standards were endorsed by groups representing teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, the state Chamber of Commerce – and until recently, with enthusiasm by Christie himself. That kind of consensus is beyond rare in education, where policy debates are often fought with brass knuckles.

Christie has made some important improvements in our public schools. He signed a tenure law that is off to a good start, and is bringing a new focus on teacher training and quality. He embraced a careful expansion of charter schools, closing down the worst ones while nourishing the growth of the best in cities like Newark and Camden, where the need is greatest. In the past, he challenged his fellow Republicans to embraced national standards, and said their resistance was based on an irrational reflex to oppose President Obama.

But let's face it: He has lost his bearings since he decided to run for president. For the sake of New Jersey students, educators should simply ignore him until this fever breaks.

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