Our education system in Illinois is in peril. Hundreds of Illinois schools are failing; more high schoolers drop out before graduation; and our students are falling further behind the world.
As we grapple with these alarming developments, we must do everything we can to make sure our kids are ready for college and the workforce.
One proposed solution is the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning standards in English and math.
In 2010, the Illinois Board of Education joined the now more than 45 states and other areas in adopting the Common Core, and plans to complete implementation by the end of the 2014-15 school year.
Additionally, Illinois will adopt a new set of standardized tests that align with the Common Core. Starting next year, student’s test scores will be compared against other states using the Common Core as the national benchmark.
Since local principals brought this issue to my attention earlier this year, I’ve been on a fact-finding mission to find out if the Common Core is right for Illinois, or if we should push the pause button.
As co-chair of the House Science and National Labs Caucus, I actively support raising the bar for STEM education. I wanted to find out if these standards could improve STEM education and help our students become competitive in the world again.
In July, I traveled to Springfield to meet with Chris Koch, state superintendent of Education, who explained the difficulties he faces implementing the standards.
Last month, I hosted a summit at McHenry County College bringing together educators, administrators, thought-leaders and parents to dig deep into the issue.
Supporters made a good case that standards are necessary to guide and track student progress. But throughout the discussion, the veneer of Common Core as a miracle solution to our educational problems wore off.
First off, some estimates put the total cost of implementation to Illinois, including teacher training, new books and materials, and computer technology, in the area above $700 million over seven years.
This is simply unaffordable for our state.
And there’s little evidence these standards and assessments will keep Illinois competitive. A top-down mandated approach will force schools to teach to the test, not the subject.
Above all, they threaten local control over education.
While states and local districts should be free to choose whatever standards they want, there is growing concern that the Common Core opens up local schools to federal intrusion.
And whenever the federal government gets involved in local affairs – watch out.
This past month I met with Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence, whose legislature pushed the pause button for a year to step back and assess whether this is the best path for his state. He also intends to withdraw from the associated testing.
On July 19, I joined the House in passing the Student Success Act, which limits the Secretary of Education’s authority and halts federal overreach into the classroom.
But together we must do more.
I urge you – please contact the State Board of Education, your state representatives and your senators and let them know how you feel about Common Core.
No discussion about education should be held without parents and the community.
With your help we can ensure parents and teachers – not government bureaucrats – have the ultimate say in education.
• Republican Randy Hultgren represents Illinois’ 14th U.S. Congressional District.