Ask the GOP candidates about Common Core and U.S. competitiveness

Opinion by former IBM chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner in the Cleveland Plain Dealer

08/06/15

 With the first official GOP presidential debate set for Thursday, there's one important question that should be asked. First a little background:

Few Americans would disagree that America must be more competitive in the global economy. Few would disagree that income inequality is a growing concern that needs to be addressed. And few would argue against creating good jobs for middle-class people that can support families, help them buy a home, send their kids to college and save for their retirement.

Now, most of us would agree that improving our kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools is critical to addressing these three national priorities and that high standards are an essential requirement of great schools. So, the question for the candidates is this:

Do you support the Common Core State Standards or not? And please tell us why.

Now, before you answer the question, let's get a few facts straight: The Common Core State Standards were created by governors. They were not written, approved or mandated by the federal government.

The standards outline the math and language arts (reading and comprehension) capabilities that young people must master to have any opportunity to have a promising future. Importantly, the Common Core standards do not dictate curriculum or testing regimes. These remain the responsibility of local school boards and superintendents.

The Common Core State Standards are ambitious but responsible learning goals for 43 states in an increasingly mobile society where military families and employees frequently relocate across state lines. Those families need to know that standards are somewhat consistent throughout the country.

Large companies seeking to locate in states across America need to know that their current employees will have good schools for their children and their future employees will have the needed skills to help their companies grow.

I fully understand that education is primarily a local and state issue in America. I also recognize that the federal role should be limited. But I cannot understand why this common-sense issue has become such a political football, and I am deeply frustrated by the misinformation surrounding Common Core.

Among the candidates for president are several governors who helped create these standards. There are several others who adopted them in their states and even sought and received federal funds to implement them. Some of them have since reversed themselves and come out against the standards.

The Republican National Committee 2013 adopted a resolution opposing the standards. Finally, most of the other candidates have adopted the party line and come out against the standards. To their credit, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have both maintained their strong support of the standards.

Among the many supporters of the Common Core State Standards are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. Forward-thinking business leaders understand that America's future relies on an educated workforce and that the Common Core State Standards play a key role in keeping America competitive in the new century.

A recent survey conducted by Achieve shows that 62 percent of employers and 78 percent of college professors feel that high schools are not doing enough to prepare students for college or the work world. Bear in mind that they are seeing the better students who graduate from high school and continue their education. There are millions of other young people who don't even get that far.

Despite all of the drama around the Common Core State Standards, only three states have actually repealed them and two of them replaced them with standards that are suspiciously similar to the Common Core. We all know there is an election coming up and elections have a way of escalating rhetoric at the expense of reason.

But this issue is too important to be perverted by politics. The American people need and deserve a president with the courage to stand by his or her convictions and not retreat back to mediocrity.

On the issue of the Common Core standards, the candidates who take the stage in Ohio have a chance to put aside politics, check their rhetoric at the door and put children first. For the country's sake, let's hope they do.

Lou Gerstner is the retired chairman and CEO of IBM.

 
 
 
 
 

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