The Common Core Tsunami


As my friend and colleague Sue Copely says, a tsunami is approaching and its name is the Common Core State Standards.

This week I read Diane Ravitch’s recent post on the Common Core where she finally states emphatically that she “cannot support” the standards. Clearly, Diane’s voice is impactful in 2013. She is brilliant, verbose, and states her views with solid research. Part of her allure is that she did a philosophical “180″, having worked as Assistant Secretary of Education under Bush “41” and now with the advent of social media, she’s become the darling of progressives…seemingly overnight.

I am in a precarious position, like many of you. I was not involved with the creation of the Common Core and frankly, no one asked my opinion before the standards were created except for a few state-wide meetings designed to get input. I am also an affiliate president for ASCD, an organization that has received significant Gates money to develop training around the standards. In fact, my organization, NHASCD, is in the midst of developing a joint two day workshop with ASCD specifically designed to train school leaders in Common Core implementation.

My school district has engaged in very practical work around these standards and I lead an Assessment Committee that is examining the impact of Smarter Balanced assessments coming in the spring of 2015. I haven’t heard a single educator question the Common Core in my district and it’s not because they are naturally passive. While we are concerned about the rigor of the standards, we believe that our students are ready for the challenge and for the most part, the standards are well written.

However, Ms. Ravitch believes that the Common Core were thrust upon us too quickly. As she said in her post:

Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?

No doubt that a trial of the standards would be beneficial but how would that be rolled out? While many of us wish publishers would just go away, how would they react to a roll out of the standards? How would the data be collected on its effectiveness?

While technically the Feds did not initiate the making of the Common Core, Diane states that the promise of Race To The Top funds was too tempting for states to pass up.

In fact, it was well understood by states that they would not be eligible for Race to the Top funding ($4.35 billion) unless they adopted the Common Core standards. Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from prescribing any curriculum, but in this case the Department figured out a clever way to evade the letter of the law. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia signed on, not because the Common Core standards were better than their own, but because they wanted a share of the federal cash.

I’m not so sure that the situation is as shady as Diane would make it seem, but clearly the money chase was a factor in the standards being approved by nearly every state so quickly. Either way, it was amazing how many states moved quickly toward adoption, including New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state.

Diane concludes…

I will continue to watch and listen. While I cannot support the Common Core standards, I will remain open to new evidence. If the standards help kids, I will say so. If they hurt them, I will say so. I will listen to their advocates and to their critics.

Well, this is clearly playing it safe. Diane cannot support the Standards but if things go well, she’ll change her mind.

Ravitch benefits from pundit safety. She is not a teacher who has to implement the Common Core. She’s not an administrator who needs to support teachers and is responsible for the results.

Yet, there is a place in the world for pundits. Those of us on the front lines benefit from perspectives that we may not hear while we’re in the center of the action.

I like the “reset” nature of the Common Core; the ability to take a deep breath, dive into curriculum with teachers and improve our instruction based on standards that certainly do not appear harmful to students but whose real impact won’t be known for a while. I believe the Standards are of a higher quality and appropriately more rigorous than our current New Hampshire standards.

In the end, our students’ success will depend as much as teacher collaboration, innovation, and a committment to teach students how to think critically and problem solve mightily. The Common Core journey will be compelling.


4 comments Add yours
  1. Thank you, Bill, for this candid, thoughtful, and in-depth response to Diane Ravitch’s post. I really appreciate your ability to balance ‘the big picture’ of educational reform initiatives (like the CCSS) with the all-important ‘practical work’ in schools regarding what truly makes a difference in the lives of students and teachers as well as families and administrators. And three cheers for your conclusion that in the end, CCSS or not, students’ success will depend largely on “teacher collaboration [and caring], innovation, and a commitment to teach students how to think critically and problem solve mightily…” So true!

    1. And truly, I do respect Diane’s passion and agree with many of her views. She might be a good speaker to have up in NH, you think? A bit like having Alfie Kohn a few years ago.

  2. I read Diane’s article too. I almost sent it to you, MB, SC etc… I am struggling with some of the CC stuff, especially in math. I find myself, often, saying “CAN I get 4th graders to factor 96 and 102?” Sure I can. “SHOULD i?” Now there is the rub. This is one we need to spend some good teacher-brains thinking about. And then we need to talk. Seriously talk.

    1. Hi Trish-Great point that’s not brought up much: sure we can, but should we? We always have to consider what is being left out when we teach content that appears to be beneficial…but is it?

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