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Michigan Schools need the Common Core

Published 9:15am Thursday, July 10, 2014

In the past months, critics of the Common Core Curriculum have arisen on both sides of the political spectrum. Critics on the right have been particularly vocal and are especially worried that control of our schools will be centralized in Washington, D.C. That is a risk — there is no question that federal influence over education has grown in the past years. There was “No Child Left Behind” under George W. Bush and “Race to the Top” under Barack Obama.

Why have Republican and Democrat presidents involved themselves in public education? The principal reason is that public schools in the United States have fallen behind the rest of the world. Our children do not compare well with children from countries from Europe to northeast Asia.

The program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012 out of 65 countries ranked the U.S. 36th in mathematics, 28th in science, and 24th in reading — not a proud statistic for the United States.

Common Core Curriculum arose from the equally disturbing fact that children from the different states produce different levels of achievement on standardized tests from organizations like the National Assessment of Education Programs (NAEP).

For instance, Michigan students in the fourth grade were 37 percent proficient in math, which was 38th out of 50 states, the District of Columbia and Department of Defense school systems.

In the eighth grade, Michigan students were 31 percent proficient and were ranked 36th out of the same 52 school systems.

In reading, Michigan students in the fourth grade were 30 percent proficient and were ranked 36th. Eighth grade Michigan students were 33 percent proficient and were ranked 42nd. That came as a shock to me. Taken together with the PISA scores, Michigan students are evidently not competitive with the rest of the world academically.

I should add here that I do not have PISA or NEAP measurements for Niles alone. That would be nice to know, but it is irrelevant because the decision to keep the Common Core Curriculum will be decided in Lansing for the entire state.

Some Common Core Curriculum criticism comes from parents who are shocked that their children are confronted by substantially higher standards than before. They worry that their children will not be able to respond to higher standards. Some educators also have that worry.

I do not pretend that Common Core Curriculum and its associated testing could not be improved. However, I really do not understand the argument from people who want to go back to the way we set curriculum before.

How can Michigan’s leaders, Michigan’s parents and administrators in Michigan school districts evaluate curriculum if we go back to Michigan’s unique curriculum and Michigan’s unique standardized testing? Any objective observer would want to be able to compare Michigan students’ achievements against the other states.

I honestly can say that no one has ever accused me of being progressive. On this issue, however, I side with those who support the Common Core Curriculum. I’m willing to accept guidance and some direction from the federal government in this area. Lansing has been doing a poor job.


Michael Waldron is a retired lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army, who was born and raised in Niles. He previously served on the Niles Community School Board of Education. He can be reached at


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