If concerned citizens want to inform themselves on one of the most important issues in their lives — the education of their children — they would be hard-pressed to get any significant help from the national media.
Take, for example, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision this week to file a lawsuit against the federal government over Common Core, the set of national educational guidelines many people have found wanting. Only a handful of news organizations reported on Mr. Jindal’s legal action, which maintained the Obama administration planned to nationalize public education — an institution usually under the purview of state and local governments.
Common Core, the current plan in education aimed at improving English and math scores, has a variety of flaws. Some local media outlets have done good reporting, particularly in Indiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. For the most part, however, the national media have failed to look at the standards in any depth, standards which originally were adopted by nearly every state. Three states have pulled out of the program and more may do so.
The National Review’s Alec Torres did a wonderful takedown of the math program in an article, “The Ten Dumbest Common Core Problems.” From various programs, he showed how silly the curriculum could become. For example, the simple equation of “7+7” had degenerated into so-called “number bonds.” Addition and subtraction had become “math situations.” One frustrated parent, with a degree in electrical engineering, sent back his child’s math homework to the teacher, saying he couldn’t find the answer with Common Core. But he solved the problem in five seconds by using traditional subtraction methods.
Two recent polls showed widespread dissatisfaction with Common Core. An annual poll by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa International, an educators’ organization, found recently that 60 percent of 1,000 people polled opposed the standards, generally because they believed they would limit the ability of teachers to choose what they thought best for the students. A poll of 5,000 teachers from Education Next, a center at Stanford University, found increasing dissatisfaction along similar grounds. In 2013, the poll found 76 percent of teachers backed the new program, while this year that figure had dropped significantly to 46 percent. Opposition has grown from 12 percent in 2013 to 40 percent this year.
So why aren’t the media racing to the nearest public school to see what’s going on? For the most part, the media view the debate through the ideological lens of conservatives vs. liberals. That’s exactly how The Associated Press described Mr. Jindal’s lawsuit even though teachers’ unions, which rank among the most liberal organizations in the country, also oppose many of the standards. The National Education Association, which endorsed Mr. Obama, sent a letter earlier this year to its 3 million members, saying Common Core needed more input from teachers and a “major course correction.”
Education reformers see the program’s standardized tests as creating a deeper divide between schools in wealthier neighborhoods and poorer ones. That’s roughly what the state of New York found in its first series of tests.
Conservatives like Mr. Jindal see the Obama administration using federal monies to persuade state school administrators to adopt the standards, dipping into a federal pot of more than $4 billion to send to cooperative state agencies.
Journalists need to find out what happened to the overwhelming support for Common Core, when it was devised in 2009, to what has developed into significant division and debate about the program. Moreover, it may be necessary to see if another path may help the students before the entire program becomes a central component of the educational system.
• Christopher Harper teaches journalism at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @charper51.