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Holding Firm on Common Core in Ohio: Policy over Rhetoric

• Neil Ruddock

A Congressional lobbyist was once asked to comment on one of President Bill Clinton’s State of the Union speeches in the mid-90s. Though sympathetic to the President’s overall policy goals, the lobbyist said that “It was a great speech; I agreed with 95 percent of it. But we don’t vote on speeches here in Washington.”

Speeches aplenty are in season as implementation of the Common Core State Standards ramps up in Ohio. Thankfully, the Ohio General Assembly has stayed focused on creating student-friendly policies, and allowed educators to focus on implementing the standards without politics interfering. It has allowed the speeches to take a back seat to the grinding yet vital work of implementation.

So far, at least.

Ohio students have made modest progress the past several years. But that still means that only about 40 percent of fourth- and eighth-grade students are proficient in English and math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The high mark (if you can call it that) is 48 percent proficient in fourth-grade math.

Enter Common Core State Standards.

In 2008, consensus formed among governors and chief state school officers that raising academic expectations was a shared imperative. The result was the Common Core State Standards. In June 2010, the Ohio State Board of Education chose to adopt these higher academic standards. Ohio’s previous standards lacked clarity and depth and did not put an emphasis on the fundamentals, leaving teachers scrambling to cover all their bases rather than spend time on the most important concepts and skills. Common Core State Standards address those problems.

3 things for Buckeyes to remember about Common Core State Standards:

  1. Common Core State Standards move kids beyond rote memorization. These standards support the teaching of critical thinking and how to process knowledge and use it in the real world. Common Core standards challenge students to read critically, write extensively, and solve real-world math problems at greater capacity, raising the bar for all students and resulting in a more valuable education.
  2. Common Core State Standards are not a national mandate or a national curriculum. As Ohio did four years ago, states voluntarily chose whether or not to adopt the standards and retain full authority for implementation, preventing the possibility of a federal takeover. State leaders, accountable to their constituents, can withdraw their states from the standards at any time.
  3. Common Core State Standards will not dictate what texts teachers will use for instruction. Common Core State Standards define what students need to know; they do not define what teachers should teach or how students should learn. By focusing on fundamental concepts, these standards will actually help preserve freedom for curriculum choice. These decisions are left to each state, and local teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards will continue to make important decisions about curriculum and how their school systems are operated.

Ohio policymakers have resisted the temptation to mistake the growing pains of implementation as a reason to abandon good policy. In any transition, there will inevitably be examples of poor textbooks, misaligned lesson plans, or individual student experiences—tied back to Common Core State Standards—that make for speech-friendly fodder.

But for all the potshots that coastal elites take at my native Ohio, all the difficulties of transitioning a manufacturing and agricultural economy into a 21st-century juggernaut, I am proud that Ohio has grownups in the Statehouse. I hope the grownups continue to drive the train as Common Core moves forward.

Click here to get the facts on Common Core

About the author

Neil Ruddock

Neil serves as a Regional Advocacy Director at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He came to the Foundation after 3½ years with the Indiana Department of Education, first as legislative liaison and policy advisor and most recently as director of the Hoosier state’s new school voucher program. Neil has also served as a policy analyst for Educational Testing Service, and began his career on the staff of then-U.S. Senator George Voinovich. A native Ohioan, Neil is a proud graduate of Notre Dame and holds a Masters degree from Johns Hopkins. He is also a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan. Neil serves as the Regional Advocacy Director for the Central region and his portfolio of states includes: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Contact Neil at