By Eric Hanushek |
Common Core Standards began as an initiative to help all students acquire the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and the workforce. Unfortunately, in some states, Common Core is becoming the Vietnam of education issues, a battleground of dubious merit that reflects much more global political power struggles. This dynamic threatens to undermine Common Core’s original intent.
Surely, most voters do not buy all-purpose right-wing fringe arguments that, for example, Common Core is a conspiracy to establish one-world government. That’s cold comfort, though, for more moderate Republicans in states like Indiana who believe in Common Core but where small bands of tea partiers have proven they can take out incumbents in primary elections.
This disconnection between politics and policy also operates in the opposite direction. Even the pro-Common Core folks at the Fordham Foundation estimate the new standards are no more rigorous than what Indiana has now. The state assessment system, which effectively sets lower high school graduation standards for poor and minority students, might have been a much better target for change. The decision to maintain all the focus on adopting Common Core and very little on opposing the state’s decision last year to keep that system now makes Common Core’s fate in Indiana more or less moot.
In states where Common Core is further advanced, some who push back on any change that inconvenience adults are using an old playbook: support, in principle, reforms in their early stages, then delay and undermine them as soon as they get underway. As Randi Weingarten, an early supporter of Common Core and President of the American Federation of Teachers has said, “Implementation is where reform dies.”
In Weingarten’s home state of New York, Weingarten and other union executives now contend that Common Core will lead to more testing when in fact it’s the union’s own policies that will do that. They say it will lead to the mass firing of teachers, when they know better than anyone that state laws and regulations — that they in fact wrote — make it impossible to fire even the most grossly incompetent teachers. Regardless of anyone’s intent, Common Core is again in this instance a distraction that’s working to divert attention from other more fundamentally important issues.
The thinkers and leaders behind Common Core have consistently stressed its power to change public instruction depends upon corresponding changes in student testing, teacher training, and curricula. Some research has found that higher standards have no impact with or without those corresponding changes. Yet even if one accepts the arguments behind the Common Core model, the task of aligning standards is proving easier said than done.
Critics in California – including the head of the California Teachers Association – are now questioning whether the $1.25 billion the state has dedicated to Common Core implementation is adequate (without of course saying what the right amount is). California might be better off directly investing those funds in a much-needed overhaul of its teacher training system or in remedies for the shortage of teachers in courses required for admission by the state’s higher education system.
Vietnam, which ultimately became synonymous with the word “quagmire,” both
sides withdrew long after it became clear that the potential benefits were outweighed
by the mounting costs to lives and treasure. California, Indiana, and New York
aren’t reflective of all states, but neither are they the only ones where the
best policies around testing, teacher training and equity are collateral
damage. Given the high-stakes, all parties agree are associated with quality
education, these are mistakes we can’t afford to keep repeating.
About Charles Barone
is policy director of Democrats for Education Reform.
is the President of FreedomWorks.
is CEO at StudentsFirst and former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.
Dennis Van Roekel
is president of the National Education Association.