In the heated and confusing debate over Common Core, it is described as a nefarious attempt to imprint young minds with a liberal agenda - or as a necessary step if the United States is going to improve its sad spot in world education rankings. It is poorly researched and difficult to implement - or it is representative of the best educational experts have to offer.
The latest lob came from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He said South Carolina is doing its students a disservice by opting out of Common Core beginning in the 2015-2016 school year.
Speaking to more than a thousand educators here via a live Internet connection on June 11, Mr. Duncan said, "Historically South Carolina has set a low bar. That's not something anyone should be proud of."
Sen. Larry Grooms' objects to Common Core because it is promoted by federal officials while education is a state function. "A one-size-fits-all policy will bring ruin to this country," the Berkeley Republican said.
Not surprisingly, Gov. Nikki Haley is on the anti-Common Core bandwagon. During her tenure, she has rejected several programs offered by the federal government - some of them coming with money.
The bill she signed says Common Core's curriculum will be replaced by new standards developed by the S.C. Department of Education and in classrooms by the 2015-2016 school year.
Whoever is charged with writing those standards might want to read a 2010 report by the S.C. Department of Education. It concludes that the standards South Carolina was using at the time were similar to Common Core's but were less rigorous.
South Carolina would do no one any favors - not students, parents, teachers, colleges or employers - by expecting less of students here than elsewhere. Schools must prepare children to compete not just locally or nationally but internationally. Students who aren't well prepared will pay a big price.
Already the United States lags behind many developed countries in education. And South Carolina lags behind most of the United States.
Having refused to adopt Common Core standards, which were recommended by the S.C. Department of Education as being clearer and more rigorous, the state is committed to starting over. Melanie Barton, director of the independent Education Oversight Committee, said writing new standards requires a minimum of two years.
Common Core standards were drawn up over several years by a national group of educators, and led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. One purpose is to establish standards to align with each other and be benchmarked internationally. South Carolina graduates must compete not just with each other but with graduates of schools across the country, and indeed the world.
The process is also expensive.
In a state as averse to the federal government involving itself in state affairs as is South Carolina, it is unlikely the Common Core debate will ever be resolved without Common Core's elimination.
But it would be a mistake to rush through the process of writing new standards in order to meet an arbitrary deadline. Or to revert to standards that are less rigorous than Common Core's. Or to hedge on teaching information that is scientifically accurate.
The state's rejection of Common Core should not push South Carolina to settle for standards that would put our children, and our state, at a disadvantage.