The common core state standards in English language arts could take us in the wrong direction—unless we plan for where we need to go.
The U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top grant competition, announced in 2009, set off a flurry of legislative action from cash-starved state governments ready to do whatever it took to preserve school funding. In an ever-expanding economic recession, state after state adopted the government-favored common core state standards, hoping to gain a competitive edge for the millions of dollars in federal funds that were at stake. In a development that had been previously unthinkable, national standards alignment was suddenly born, neatly side-stepping both the U.S. Constitution and federal law.1
For the hopeful, the new common core state standards promise a vision of unity—"out of many, one." But for other observers, both Race to the Top and the new standards represent a troubling departure from an expansive vision of liberal arts education stretching from its origins in antiquity to the founding of 19th century public schools and continuing through the present. In this view, education should immerse students in the continuum of ideas of a democratic society. Students should be broadly educated in the traditions, documents, literature, history, and understandings imparted by their forebears.