January 9 2015
As opposition to Common Core among parents, teachers, and elected officials mounts, it seems superintendents, school board members, and other education officials insist on digging in their heels—but why?
Sandra Stotsky, who was instrumental in developing Massachusetts’ first-rate state standards and also served on the National Validation Committee for the Common Core State Systemic Initiative, reflects on the education establishment’s support in her recent Education News column:
…despite mounting anger by parents from coast to coast, huge increases in home schooling, growing rebellion by teachers, and rising skepticism by others that the silver bullet to upgrade American public education was successfully manufactured in Washington, D.C. in 2010. Why are state boards and commissioners of education trying so hard today to deceive the parents and other citizens in their states?
This will be the most puzzling question needing to be answered when future historians try to write the whole sorry history of Common Core’s under-the-radar-adoption, abrupt implementation from 2011 on, and sudden demise in 2015-2016….What motivates them to this day to stick with the most damaging educational policies that could have been imagined for K-12, whether or not they were in office in 2010 and voted to adopt Common Core’s standards and the tests based on them?
I’ve tried to pose all the relevant questions in pursuit of a satisfactory answer. What have I missed?
1. Do they really believe what they have been told by Common Core’s developers, promoters, and the media, who seem incapable of skeptical thinking—to the effect that Common Core’s standards are “rigorous” and “level the playing field”?
2. Do they not have any friends in science or engineering who can verify what is missing or delayed in Common Core’s math standards even if they don’t want to believe mathematician James Milgram of Stanford or mathematician Marina Ratner of Berkeley?
3. What keeps state board members today from using common sense to reverse the thoughtless decision made in 2010? Just saving face?
4. Do they not care what damage they inflict on the schools of this country so long as they save face?
5. Do they really believe lower standards will help low-achieving Hispanics and African Americans to close the demographic “gaps”?
6. Do they really believe the opposition to Common Core’s standards and tests is chiefly Tea Partiers or “right-wing” parents?
7. How would they distinguish “right-wing” parents from “left-wing” parents, or “conservative” parents from “liberal” parents?
8. What else?
What a difference from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, which was vilified for hinging states’ federal funding to the implementation of “rigorous” standards, too. The difference, it seems to me, is that unlike NCLB, Common Core has no real consequences—so get ready for NCLB light—which is really saying something considering how weakly that law was enforced (especially its toothless provisions about parental choice) and how powerfully states gamed the “standards” with gimmicks and statistical shenanigans that deceived parents and the taxpaying public about how students were actually performing.
To my knowledge, not one Common Core booster has ever explained why this time will be different, namely, why we won’t see just as much (if not more) proficiency rate trickery that leaves parents as much in the dark about how their children are actually performing academically.
In the end, most reasonable people are for excellence in education. Thus far, there’s little evidence that government or special interest groups know what’s best for other people’s children. So let’s stop politicizing academic standards.
Let parents pick their children’s schools and teachers based on the academic measures they use already to gauge students' achievement and progress in core subjects. If parents believe the measures are credible—great! If not, let parents use their children's education funding to send them elsewhere.
This approach would be far better because to be competitive schools and teachers would have powerful incentives to work together to put in place the very best standards and assessments. What’s more, they’d be watching their competition to make sure their standards and assessments were the best of breed.
Such competition for students based on genuinely rigorous academic standards and assessments would better ensure a culture of continuous improvement. That would be a refreshing departure from the ossified mandate-driven madness we’ve been tolerating for decades.
Rather than subject students, schools, teachers, and taxpayers to standards-driven upheaval, chaos, and expense about every ten years or so—as we’ve done since roughly the 1980s with various federally-driven compliance-for-cash bribes to the states—let’s try real excellence and accountability from the ground up.
This approach certainly won’t appeal to folks like U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has been critical of what he calls our current "patchwork" system of state standards. But frankly, such diversity would be a giant improvement over imposing yet another one-size-fits-all federal education fad, in no small part concocted by those who stand to profit from it.