Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Common Core's Becoming the Edsel

Why does Common Core have attackers from both left and right? A recent article in Salon by Jeff Bryant suggests a few answers:
"Diane Ravitch, who had previously been an advocate for national standards, looked at how the Common Core was being sold to the American public and warned, “To expect tougher standards and a renewed emphasis on standardized testing to reduce poverty and inequality is to expect what never was and never will be … We have a national policy that is a theory based on an assumption grounded in hope.” (emphasis added)
Educators on the ground also sounded warnings about the Common Core, as award-winning Long Island school principal Carol Burris did at The Washington Post. “When I first read about the Common Core State Standards, I cheered, she explained. “I even co-authored a book, “Opening the Common Core.” But her opinion soured as she gradually realized that support for the Common Core included accepting the features that came with it, including more standardized tests that are used to evaluate and fire teachers. Burris realized. “The promise of the Common Core is dying and teaching and learning are being distorted. The well that should sustain the Core has been poisoned.”
More recently, opposition to the Common Core has spread to parents. In New York, thousands of parents and teachers, from the lower Hudson Valley all the way upstate to Buffalo, have packed school auditoriums and demanded changes to current education policies that enforce the new standards. At a recent town hall meeting in Long Island, a classroom teacher charged state officials with “child abuse” and was roundly cheered by an audience of hundreds of disgruntled parents and educators. 
All this unrest prompted U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to lash out at critics of his agenda by saying they inhabit “an alternative universe” and by demeaning them as “white suburban moms” who are upset at anything that might reveal “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.” 
Although Duncan eventually apologized for his remarks, it will do little to quell the anger.
As parent and Connecticut journalist Sarah Darer Littman recently explained, “Democrats from Arne Duncan on down are trying to frame the growing nationwide revolt by parents, K-12 educators, university professors, and child development specialists as ‘Tea Party extremism’ or overwrought ‘white suburban moms.’ … Those of us with older children can see the qualitative difference in curriculum since the Common Core roll out began – and we are not impressed. We’re angered by the loss of instructional time to testing for a benefit that accrues to testing companies rather than our children.”
Clearly, the reformers’ ad campaign is no longer working, their jeering response to opposition has inflamed resistance, and now politicians are feeling the heat generated by the pushback.
A recent review of the state of the Common Core by Education Week found, “a spate of bills in state legislatures calling for the slowdown or abandonment of common-core implementation, or withdrawal from the state assessment consortia designing aligned tests. Although none of the bills that would pull states out of the Common Core so far has garnered enough support to become law – with the notable exception of one in Indiana – a half-dozen states in recent months have pulled out of the coalitions developing common tests.”
The Big Mistake Reformers Make
It’s now obvious that advertising claims behind current education policies like the Common Core were never based on strong objective evidence. More Americans are noticing this and objecting. And politicians are likely to get more circumspect about which side of the debate they lean to. 
So what’s an education reformer to do? 
So far, the strategy is to churn out more editorial, along the lines of what David Brooks wrote, to exhort Americans to “stay the course” on what is becoming a more obviously failing endeavor.
But as this sloganeering wears thin, we’re likely to get a new and improved “message” from the policy elite – a Common Core 2.0, let’s say, or a “next generation” of “reform.”
What’s really needed, of course, is to see the marketing campaign for what it really is: a distraction from educational problems that are much more pressing. Why, for example, focus on unsubstantiated ideas like the Common Core rather than do something that would really matter, such as improve instructional quality, reverse school funding cuts that are harming schools, or address the inequities and socioeconomic conditions that researchers have demonstrated are persistent causes of low academic performance?
But that would require something much more than another marketing campaign. It would mean developing a whole new product."
Jeff Bryant is Director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America's Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Jeff owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has written extensively about public education policy.

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