We are all familiar with the arguments on Common Core. It’s safe to say that among edu-circles, the Common Core has become a lightning rod of sorts. I understand the arguments both pro and con. Understanding does not mean agree, however. The most prominent argument is that the Common Core has been framed as a federal incursion on states’ rights even though the standards are state led and state created.
We can give the Obama Administration full credit for this one because they took one too many victory laps for something that they didn’t do as well as attaching it to anything that moved including RTTT, ESEA Waivers, and the 2012 Democratic Party platform. The Common Core has been blamed for everything from brainwashing our children to destroying the teaching profession to teen pregnancy. The Common Core has produced wonderful branding with the frequently used term ObamaCore. It has produced the laugh- out-loud Daddy CoreBucks to describe Bill Gates’ (actually B&MGF’s) role in funding some of the standards and assessments development and implementation. There are even advocacy groups that have emerged like Mothers Against Common Core. I can only assume that MACC has bumper stickers and t-shirts. All of this is illustrative of one thing. The development of any national movement, no matter its focus, will fundamentally become political. It is the American way. The Common Core is political but it is also the right thing to do for the country and as a parent it is the right thing to do for kids.
I was taken aback recently by a piece in the New York Times on the Common Core. The piece discussed many of the standard arguments (pro and con) surrounding the Common Core but delved into the implementation challenge. There is absolute truth there. As arduous as the development and adoption of said standards was, the implementation is the more difficult task. It involves teachers developing new curricula, teaching a more rigorous set of learning outcomes, rolling out new assessments, and students digesting the new standards and tackling new assessments. This is really hard stuff, make no bones about it.
In the article, Randi Weingarten is quoted as saying, “I am worried that the Common Core is in jeopardy because of this…The shock value that has happened has been so traumatic in New York that you have a lot of people all throughout the state saying, ‘Why are you experimenting on my kids?’” This quote references the fact that states like New York and Kentucky have experienced a significant drop in test scores with the newly aligned assessments. It is important to note that any time a state has rolled out new standards and assessments, scores go down. I saw this first hand in Texas when I was working at Baylor University. When the state migrated to the TEKS and from the TAAS to TAKS, scores fell big time. But you know what? It wasn’t experimenting on kids and scores eventually went up. It is an adjustment period. Teachers adjusted and kids did, too. And once again, high standards are a good thing. Said another way, through my lens as a parent, high expectations are a good thing.
The article continues to quote Diane Ravitch, an education historian who served in President George W. Bush’s Education Department. Ravitch is quoted as saying, “We’re using a very inappropriate standard that’s way too high…I think there are a lot of kids who are being told that if they don’t go to college that it will ruin their life.” I’m sincerely troubled by this notion. I’ve been in a lot of meetings with CCSSO and NGA and with state chiefs across the country but have never heard one person say that if kids don’t go to college it will ruin their life. I will say that the data are clear that in our world today college should be the goal. Education is the silver bullet and success in a nimble, globally connected, ever- changing economy favors a mind well prepared for college AND career. Does a student HAVE to go to college, no (Daddy CoreBucks himself didn’t graduate). However, we should do everything in our collective power as educators and parents to make that option, to go to college, a reality.
Many states already had high standards prior to Common Core development and adoption. Massachusetts is widely considered one of the leaders in implementing high standards and aligned assessments. The article smartly cites David Driscoll, former commissioner of education in Massachusetts, who led an effort to raise standards in the 1990s in the state. Driscoll assesses the situation correctly, “It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of work.” Furthermore, I recently heard Mitchell Chester, current commissioner of education in Massachusetts, discuss why his state adopted the Common Core Standards and is currently implementing them. He offered that the state has extremely high passage rates on its end of course exams in math, ELA, and science that are based on the state’s high standards. However, 40 percent of students from Massachusetts schools who matriculate to public universities in the state need remediation. Massachusetts, again viewed as having high standards, needed to raise its standards because students weren’t prepared for college and career.
This is the perfect argument for why high standards are not inappropriate but essential. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not right or needed or vital. As a species we have always tackled what is hard. We came out of the cave, harnessed fire, built the wheel, created art, designed architecture, and went to the moon. It is who we are. We crave what is difficult and what propels us forward. I’m not comparing the Common Core to fire or to the moon shot. But it is what is next for education. How can we grow economically as a nation if we don’t educate our students against high standards? How can we be okay with our college students spending PELL grants, loans, and hard-earned money on courses that don’t count towards graduation? How can we look our children in the eyes and lie to them at graduations across this country by telling them they are now ready to tackle the challenges before them? It may be hard. It may be a big lift. But it is absolutely essential because I’m not going to look my three kids in the eyes and lie to them.