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Common Core: Cooperation or Civil War

By Matt Impink on February 5, 2014 in Civic Blog

In the United States there are often national problems that must be solved by 50 individual states. When states have resisted cooperation, it has sometimes led to disastrous consequences.

weights and measuresIn Colonial America, there were state or regional differences between various weights and measures. A bushel of oats in New Jersey was 28 pounds while a bushel in Connecticut weighed 32 pounds. This inconvenient problem was rightly addressed in both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution as it gave the national government the authority over weights and measures.

When the Southern states seceded from the Union and brought on the Civil War, the Confederate States of America relaxed enforcement over the states’ duty to regulate weights and measures. When the rebel war effort needed supplies and soldiers to be transported by rail, one of the major problems that resulted was the lack of a standard railroad gauge (distance between rails). “Trains of different companies ran on tracks anywhere from four feet to six feet wide. Anything that needed to be transferred from one railroad to another had to be hauled across town and loaded onto new freight cars.”

John Hankey’s book “The Railroad War” details how there was 1) a lack of a true rail network in the South and 2) a break in gauge between the Standard gauge in North Carolina and Virginia, the Broad gauge further South and many custom gauges further West. Unlike the more sophisticated rail system in the North, the uncoordinated Southern rail system contributed greatly to the exhaustion of the Confederate Army when resources could not be efficiently transported across state lines.

This historical context is why the opposition to the Common Core is so troubling. Over the course of the last 18 years the National Governor’s Association and the National Association of Chief State School Officers worked with educators and business leaders to create a superior set of rigorous education standards. The Common Core has been voluntarily adopted by 45 states and DC. Despite the fact that 75% of teachers support these college and career ready standards, Indiana is threatening to pull out of Common Core and write its own state standards in the matter of few months (possibly pulling other states with it). This arrogant and irrational act is a threat to our children’s futures.

Not unlike the Civil War, globalization and innovation will create a severe strain on America’s resources. Today millions of jobs go unfilled because employers can’t find qualified workers. By 2025, 63% of jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, yet the United States is only on pace to have 47% of its workers with such skills. In Indiana 31% of high school graduates enter college needing to take remedial courses because our current standards are not sufficiently preparing students for college and career. A lot like the disjointed Confederate rail system, each state currently has its own education standards of what students should know at the end of each grade. Great innovations in curriculum and instruction are stopped at state borders as lessons must be translated and reloaded on to a different set of state standards.

The Common Core breaks down these barriers and allows educators across the country to network with each other to develop innovative curriculum. Indiana should cooperate with our fellow states to adopt this set of common rigorous standards and not fall behind as we reinvent the railroad track. You see how well that worked for the Confederates.

meMatt Impink is a former US History Teacher and Education Policy Advocate. He is currently a Graduate Student at IU’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) in Indianapolis and curates the Civic Blog. He can be reached at mrimpink@iupui.edu and tweets @mrimpink.


  1. Linda February 8, 2014 Reply

    Great post!! I thought this was a no brainer. Why would we in this situation want different standards? Our economy is tied to each other. I believe big money has influence the discussion and media reports are distorted. If we go deeper this is a national security issue. If we have a large population who can not read, do basic math, or have social skills this correlates to high unemployment, crime, less candidates for the military. An uneducated society falls for anything and ultimately may be influence from those who want to harm the US. How can the US sustains at this rate?

  2. vanc;aren April 16, 2014 Reply

    What nonsense. As your example, weights and measures are decided by the federal government, constitutionally for good reasons. Education, on the other hand, is constitutionally left to the states, for good reasons. Your argument does not hold water.

  3. Matt Impink April 16, 2014 Reply

    @vanc;aren I would argue that education standards are a measurement and as history has shown it is beneficial to have common measurements in the United States. A railroad gauge wasn’t considered a federally regulated measure either in the 19th Century, but having a common gauge was essential to the development of the railroad industry. While we should have a common language of how we measure education, the local districts can and should have the authority to determine curriculum or how we teach. Thanks for your comment.

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